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February 4, 2010

Noting big (and wasteful?) budget growth in federal prison spending

Following up on an issue I spotlighted in this recent post (which has generated lots of interesting comments), today this article in USA Today takes a look at the Justice Department's proposed 2011 budget numbers. This piece is headlined "2011 budget gives federal prisons $528M," and here are some highlights:

As states cut their budgets by closing prisons and diverting some offenders to probation and treatment programs, the federal government is proposing to dramatically ramp up its detention operations.

The Obama administration's $3.8 trillion 2011 budget proposal calls for a $527.5 million infusion for the federal Bureau of Prisons and judicial security — $227 million more than the proposed increase to Justice's national security program. The boost would bring the total Bureau of Prisons budget to $6.8 billion.

Nearly half of the new funding is proposed to accommodate the administration's plan to close the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and move some of the terror suspects to an Illinois prison. The Justice Department also projects that federal prisons, which now hold 213,000 offenders, will hold 7,000 more by 2011.

Also included in the Justice budget is a proposal to hire 652 additional prison guards and fill 1,200 vacant detention positions, far more than the combined 448 new agents planned for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and U.S. Marshals Service.

Assistant Attorney General Lee Lofthus says the increased prison system funding does not reflect a de-emphasis of national security, only that the Bureau of Prisons "needs the bed space."...

The federal spending plan contrasts with the criminal justice strategies pursued in many cash-strapped states, including California, Kansas and Kentucky, where officials have closed prisons or allowed for the early release of some non-violent offenders. In Kansas, for example, state officials last year closed three prisons and reduced the number of probation violators sent to prison to reduce detention costs.

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to incarceration, says states have a "greater sense of urgency" to change policy because of their obligations to balance budgets. "That sense of urgency isn't there at the federal level," Mauer says. "Prison expansion slows the momentum for the reconsideration of some of those policies."

I hope we might hear the usual suspects who usually complain most loudly about excessive federal spending will speak out about the continued (and wasteful?) growth of the federal criminal justice and prison system.  I fear, however, that prison spending tends to be an arena in which many persons who are usually advocates for limited government spending become quite willing to endorse the continued growth of big government.

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"Nearly half of the new funding is proposed to accommodate the administration's plan to close the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and move some of the terror suspects to an Illinois prison."

Since cost-cutting is all the rage, maybe we should drop the plan to close Gitmo. In my view, cost saving is the least of the reasons the plan should be dropped, but, for those who have been fretting about the expense of imprisonmemt, here's a way to move forward.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 4, 2010 4:31:17 PM

"I fear, however, that prison spending tends to be an arena in which many persons who are usually advocates for limited government spending become quite willing to endorse the continued growth of big government."

But that has always been true and will always be true. "big" and "small" has always be proxy words for "government I don't like" and "government I like," respectively.

In the 200 years America has been in existence the federal government has never, under either Republicans or Democrats, gotten smaller.

Posted by: Daniel | Feb 4, 2010 5:32:34 PM

If you are so proud of torture, why haven't you mentioned it here, Bill?

Posted by: Mark # 1 | Feb 5, 2010 3:55:51 AM

Obama must be delusional about the BOP. At the Pekin, Illinois women's federal prison camp, exclusively for non-violent offenders, and run by a rural group of guards, new, doofus rules have been imposed-- rules which may inflate the BOP's concern for safety and to keep their employment as stable as possible, given the bleak economic circumstances for the non-federal world. The women at this camp: fat, old, unhealthy, young, trim, whatever...all MUST wear their prison shirts tucked in. A sweatshirt, if worn, must be inside the shirt. As part of the uniform, they must also wear big black engineer boots--not, the safer sneakers. In the men's camps, this sort of guard control is not approached---perhaps because women are much easier targets for those who wear a guard's uniform, badly-fitting though it may be.

How does this affect the numbers about which Obama must be concerned? The women who are caught NOT tucking in their shirts appropriately are given "shots"...disciplinary infractions, which involve a loss of good time and other privileges, such as suspended telephone and visitor privileges.

Posted by: FluffyRoss | Feb 5, 2010 12:32:14 PM

Seriously, this week I have been thinking on why is it the DOJ budget is just always given a pass? Nobody is minding the store on carefully questioning its expenditures. Why should criminal justice spending, all of it, seem totally nonaccountable to the normal democratic process of real oversight? I consider myself a centrist politically, but clearly the whole law and order system has successfully hijacked our country and its building a huge empire. Why is it not accountable to the taxpayers, or worse why do they not even question it? Whom works for whom?
I work in the health care field and am not a lawyer.

Posted by: Brian | Apr 12, 2010 12:16:06 AM

Very good post. Made me realize I was totally wrong about this issue. I figure that one learns something new everyday. Mrs Right learned her lesson! Nice, informative website by the way.

Posted by: supra shoes | Nov 11, 2010 1:51:36 AM

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