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December 16, 2013

DOJ Inspector General stresses "growing crisis" from growth of federal prison population

Thanks to The Crime Report, I have just come across this recently released memorandum from the US Department of Justice's Inspector General detailing the IG's views on the "six challenges that ... represent the most pressing concerns for the Department." Notably, as the cover letter to the memorandum stresses, concerns about the growth of the prison population is at the very top of the IG's list:

Attached to this memorandum is the Office of the Inspector General's (OIG) 2013 list of top management and performance challenges facing the Department of Justice (Department), which we have identified based on our oversight work, research, and judgment.  We have prepared similar lists since 1998.  By statute this list is required to be included in the Department's Agency Financial Report.

This year’s list identifies six challenges that we believe represent the most pressing concerns for the Department. They are Addressing the Growing Crisis in the Federal Prison System; Safeguarding National Security Consistent with Civil Rights and Liberties; Protecting Taxpayer Funds from Mismanagement and Misuse; Enhancing Cybersecurity; Ensuring Effective and Efficient Law Enforcement; and Restoring Confidence in the Integrity, Fairness, and Accountability of the Department.  While we do not prioritize the challenges we identify in our annual top management challenges report, we believe that one of the challenges highlighted this year, which we also identified in last year’s report, represents an increasingly critical threat to the Department’s ability to fulfill its mission. That challenge is Addressing the Growing Crisis in the Federal Prison System.

The crisis in the federal prison system is two-fold.  First, the costs of the federal prison system continue to escalate, consuming an ever-larger share of the Department’s budget with no relief in sight.  In the current era of flat or declining budgets, the continued growth of the prison system budget poses a threat to the Department’s other critical programs -- including those designed to protect national security, enforce criminal laws, and defend civil rights.  As I have stated in testimony to Congress during the past year, the path the Department is on is unsustainable in the current budget environment. Second, federal prisons are facing a number of important safety and security issues, including, most significantly, that they have been overcrowded for years and the problem is only getting worse.  Since 2006, Department officials have acknowledged the threat overcrowding poses to the safety and security of its prisons, yet the Department has not put in place a plan that can reasonably be expected to alleviate the problem.

Meeting this challenge will require a coordinated, Department-wide approach in which all relevant Department officials -- from agents, to prosecutors, to prison officials -- participate in reducing the costs and crowding in our prison system.  In that respect, the challenge posed by the federal prison system is reflective of all of the challenges on our list: each is truly a challenge to be addressed by the Department as a whole, not just by individual Department components.

As a policy matter, of course, it is not too difficult to devise a set of long-advocated reforms that would effectively help with this crisis: fewer federal drug prosecutions, more use of alternatives to incarceration for low-level federal offenders, greater judicial authority to reduce more unjust crack sentences based on FSA reforms, expanded good-time credits, new earned-time credits, greater use of compassionate release mechanisms, and greater use of executive commutations. The problems is, as a political matter, few in the current Obama Administration seem eager or willing to go beyond just talking the talk about these issues.

December 16, 2013 at 11:58 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Well, just keep locking up those nasty and dangerous marijuana dealers--and watch those prisons costs go up and up and up.

Posted by: anon | Dec 16, 2013 4:32:34 PM

anon --

Perhaps the pot dealers could get a regular job and save us all the trouble.

P.S. Virtually no one is in federal prison simply for use.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 16, 2013 5:46:33 PM

Bill, you write that virtually no one is in jail simply for use. So what?
I grant you they're in jail for dealing and selling. So what? It's just marijuana. Our drug policies are utter, utter failures. We recognized the failure of Prohibition--let's recognize the failure here and save untold billions-and untold wasted lives.

Posted by: anon | Dec 17, 2013 9:31:27 AM

anon --

"Bill, you write that virtually no one is in jail simply for use. So what?"

So a large number of people on the pro-drug side should quit suggesting and implying otherwise in order to make the "problem" seem bigger than it is.

"Our drug policies are utter, utter failures. We recognized the failure of Prohibition--let's recognize the failure here and save untold billions-and untold wasted lives."

I hear all the time about why drug policies are a "failure," but I never hear any serious estimate of what drug consumption would be in the country WITHOUT those policies. That, of course, makes to designation of "failure" speculation. It all depends on the alternative.

I also never hear any explanation beyond ad hominem of why the CSA has stood without serious challenge for forty years, through Congresses and Presidents of opposing parties and vastly different ideologies. It does this without public support???

Finally, a life is not "wasted" by going to jail. It's a hardship, yup, but thousands upon thousands of people right the ship and go on to have productive lives. Indeed, the term "wasted" more commonly refers to one's state of mind after a certain activity I won't go into.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 17, 2013 3:29:18 PM

I'm still waiting for some federal prisoners lawyer to use the same Federal Court decisions that were used on cal's prison system against the feds. Wasn't the number put at 140% or so as the limited before it becomes cruel illegal? how close is the fed system to hitting that number?

Posted by: rodsmith | Dec 18, 2013 11:19:38 AM

@Bill Otis

"I hear all the time about why drug policies are a "failure," but I never hear any serious estimate of what drug consumption would be in the country WITHOUT
those policies. That, of course, makes to designation of "failure" speculation. It all depends on the alternative."

The consumption of drugs is not necessarily a problem -- the physical victim targeted crimes of violence against nonconsenting parties is the issue that should determine success or failure.

If drugs are legalized, and the number of violent crimes decreases, it's irrelevant if drug consumption goes up.

Legalization of all drugs is a success if it leads to fewer crimes by addicts.

If the only or primary argument for continued criminalization is that addiction is a drain on the health budget, we are in Obamacare territory - and the state has the moral right to ban anything which may increase the health costs.

Posted by: Mike D | Dec 19, 2013 12:07:36 AM

Mike D --

"The consumption of drugs is not necessarily a problem..."

Tell that to the mother of a teenage addict who died from an overdose last night.

"...the physical victim targeted crimes of violence against nonconsenting parties is the issue that should determine success or failure."

I cannot decipher what you're saying.

"If drugs are legalized, and the number of violent crimes decreases, it's irrelevant if drug consumption goes up."

But drugs have been highly ILLEGAL for at least the last two decades, when the violent crime rate has fallen by half. So what you're saying is, not merely speculation, but very implausible speculation, given the facts we know.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 19, 2013 6:04:04 PM

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