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March 19, 2011

USSC hearing testimony about federal prison overcrowding and new release plans in works

Thanks to a helpful e-mail, I discovered that the statement of Harley Lappin, the director of the US Bureau of Prisons, delivered to the US Sentencing Commission this week during its public hearing includes some very interesting passages about federal prison overcrowding and new release proposals in the works to deal with it.  Here are the passages:

As the nation’s largest corrections system, the Bureau is responsible for the incarceration of about 210,000 inmates. Currently, the Bureau confines more than 171,000 inmates in 116 facilities with a total rated capacity of 126,971.  The remainder, more than 18 percent, are housed in privately operated prisons, residential reentry centers, and local jails. In fiscal year 2009, a net growth of 7,091 new inmates was realized and an additional 1,468 inmates were added in fiscal year 2010.  An increase of approximately 5,000-6,000 inmates per year is expected for fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2012.

Most of the inmates in Bureau facilities are serving sentences for drug trafficking offenses.  The remainder of the population includes inmates convicted of weapons, immigration law, violent, fraud, property, sex, and other miscellaneous offenses.  The average sentence length for inmates in Bureau custody is 10 years.  Approximately 7 percent of inmates in the Bureau are women, and approximately 26 percent of the Federal prison population are non-U.S. citizens.

System-wide, the Bureau is operating at 35 percent over its rated capacity.  Crowding is of special concern at higher security facilities with 50 percent crowding at high security facilities and 39 percent at medium security facilities.  This severe crowding has resulted in double and triple bunking inmates.  As of January 2011, 94 percent of high security inmates were double bunked, and 16 percent of medium security inmates and almost 82 percent of low security inmates were triple bunked or housed in space not originally designed for inmate housing. 

In order to reduce crowding, one or more of the following must occur: (1) reduce the number of inmates or the length of time they spend in prison; (2) expand inmate housing at existing facilities; (3) contract with private prisons for additional bedspace for low-security criminal aliens; and (4) acquire and/or construct and staff additional institutions.

The Department of Justice is working with Congress on two legislative proposals that will provide inmates with enhanced incentives for good behavior and participation in programming that is proven to reduce recidivism, while also reducing crowding somewhat. The first proposal increases good time credits available by seven days per year for each year of the sentence imposed.  The second proposal creates a new sentence reduction credit that inmates can earn for successful participation in recidivism-reducing programs, such as Federal Prison Industries, education, and occupational/vocational programming.

The last two sentences that I have placed in bold could be extraordinarily important to the federal criminal justice system if and when they move from proposals to law.

March 19, 2011 at 10:20 AM | Permalink


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"The first proposal increases good time credits available by seven days per year for each year of the sentence imposed."

That sentence made me immediately think of the pending Supreme Court case, Barber v. Thomas, where the Court is asked to interpret the federal good time statute. If the petitioners' argument is correct in Barber, then they are (coincidentally?) entitled to approximately 7 more days a year of good time credit. This raises two questions in my mind. Is the BOP's proposal asking Congress to write petitioners' argument into law? And regardless, is Congressional action even necessary to increase federal good time by 7 days?

One aspect of the Barber case relates to Chevron deference. It is plausible that the BOP itself could just decide to re-interpret 3624(b)(1) to adopt petitioners' argument and, presumably, that interpretation too would equally be entitled to Chevron deference. Don't agencies re-interpret statutes all the time? In its briefing in Barber, the BOP itself admits that the statute is "ambiguous." And the Sentencing Commission agrees with petitioners' interpretation.

In that situation, if the BOP wants to increase good time credit by 7 days a year, maybe the easiest and most direct route would be to simply adopt the petitioners' argument via agency statutory interpretation.

Posted by: DEJ | Mar 19, 2011 12:34:33 PM


Barber was decided last term (unless there is a Barber II that I'm not aware of), and the BOP's existing methodology won at the court.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 19, 2011 4:05:57 PM

Oh geez, your correct Soronel. I guess I'm getting my terms mixed up. Thanks for the correction. I'll have to go look at the opinion to see how much the Court relied on Cheveron deference. If it did, I think my point still remains.

Posted by: DEJ | Mar 19, 2011 4:55:37 PM

hmm isn't the feb's pitching a fit and ordering the release of prisoners in the calif penal sytem that is running not much higher over capacity?

where does the court order to force the febs to do the same come from? the World Court?

Now that would be FUNNY!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 19, 2011 5:06:19 PM

Seven days off for each year of good behavior? That's a little more than two months off the average 10-year sentence. Do you think they're being too bold?

Posted by: John K | Mar 20, 2011 12:08:25 PM

LOL you think?

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 21, 2011 12:12:36 AM

"The second proposal creates a new sentence reduction credit that inmates can earn for successful participation in recidivism-reducing programs, such as Federal Prison Industries, education, and occupational/vocational programming."

1) Most skilled trades require a license so the lawyer can control all providers, about whose specialty he knows nothing. Most licensing processes have a character examination, including getting a lawyer license. These bogus Boards have a self-styled prosecutor, a hunter, harasser, and bully of hard working folks.

2) Many service industries creak under the weight of unproven, arbitrary regulation. One is to do criminal background checks to exclude people from any job.

3) If a convict overcomes these obstacles, his employer may still face ruinous claims of negligent hiring, negligent entrustment.

If re-entry is to work, even a little, these state and local lawyers must first be better controlled.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 21, 2011 5:05:32 AM

This to me is nothing more than the classic BOP spin that is used when actions are going against policy. Fact the BOP is overcrowded. Fact the BOP is understaffed. Yet they are against the measure to apply FSA retroactively and re-implement the -2 table. Another part of Mr. Lappin's statement says how the BOP has the ablility to send offenders directly to home confinement when means are available. However, the BOP on a whole is REFUSING to do this. BOP also now has the ablility to give 1 year halfway house, however the Wardens at the institutions conveniently believe 6 months is adequate re-entry time and will not grant any time longer than the 6 months. The BOP is perhaps the most out of control, crooked government entity operating today and any person doubting the statement should take some time to look into how they operate. The problem is not many people care enough because they only house "inmates". However I counter when one part of our justice system is so corrupt and has no integrity every US Citizen should take notice.

Posted by: ARS | Mar 21, 2011 10:11:34 AM

Its a step in the right direction for sure, but I agree, they could take the good time days down to 60% and apply the FSA changes...They most likely want more Federal money, to continue building their Empire....Once a Federal agency is created, seldom is it removed or its budget held accountable, just grows and grows...Build more prisons.....Guards say need longer sentences....

Posted by: Abe | Mar 21, 2011 1:23:23 PM

I was released last June after five years in the BOP for..wait for it...damaging a portable toilet. No kidding, 18 USC 844(i). No one in the BOP had every heard of such a sentence for such an offense, with some CO's claiming "they blew up portapotties every 4th of July." But that's not my point..

The BOP specifically, IMO, encourages recidivism by refusing to train inmates in actual skills they might use to get a job outside. I'm a programmer, network admin and code monkey and immediately went to UNICOR at Elkton, which does Data Processing. I suggested to one of the supervisors that I would gladly teach classes in Flash, XML, and web development. The supervisors liked the idea and took it to the AW. I was immediately fired and given a computer ban. They claim they teach "computer skills." Mavis Beacon and Word will not get anyone a job.

I then went and taught GED classes. I graduated 25 guys in two months, and was thrown in SHU for messing up the Education Department finances. (Each graduate gets $25.) I spent the remainder of my bid on Captain's Crew, scrubbing bird poop off sidewalks.

The BOP is a business, dedicated to maximum revenue, like any other business. It is their obvious business plan to ensure most inmates return. My unit had 150 inmates, 16 TVs and 5 toilets. The WANT inmates to sleep till lunch, go play b-ball till count, then watch BET and football/basketball/Maury till 4AM. With decent education, especially in technology, many inmates would never return, and the BOP makes sure that can never happen.

Posted by: droopus | Mar 22, 2011 12:25:37 PM

Thanks for your share,thanks a lot.Good luck!

Posted by: Big pony | Apr 11, 2011 7:57:49 AM

Record every-ones DNA and fingerprints (Would cut the crime) Bring back hanging for murderers where there is absolutely no doubt Make those that cause damage pay the repair bill, No money then take goods in kind Driving a good car with no Insurance, Licence or Road Tax, Impound then sell it not crush.

Posted by: excel development | Apr 13, 2011 1:33:07 AM


Why is it that State Prisoners get less of a sentence for the same or worse crime? Then on top of that their good time is knocked off 50%, what gives?? Is it to keep their employees who get paid a good salary and lots of overtime?? What about families of first offenders who never harmed anyone. How about a sentence so that they learn their lesson and fine them $$. That way the government is getting something rather than spending taxpayers dollars and the people that didn't harm anyone can be with their families. It does not take a lot of brain power to see that we are doing something terribly wrong with our own people. They are not working they are not paying taxes, which even costs more to the rest of the American population. Why not listen to the people those that have killed or harmed someone maybe something different but truly those that did something for financial gain hit them in the pocket book and lock them up for a few years. Give the same good time as the State where the inmate is locked up or go back to something a little more where they are able to earn extra time if they work and get along without causing trouble. Just because someone makes one mistake they should not get the outragious sentences that the Federal Government gives out. Please compare those that live in a State where the maximum is x should only be allowed to be punished the maximum that that State would give a person in State Court. Why the difference? Why take so many years away you wonder why they have a hard time getting back into society? It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure that one out. Average is 10 years, that is going back to 9/11/01 this year. Look at all that has happened since then. How would you feel after spending that kind of time locked up and trying to make it back into society? Just think about what we are doing here PLEASE!!!

Posted by: Touchee | Apr 13, 2011 2:16:19 AM

Why is there more help for federal inmates than state inmates. I am trying to understand Va state prisons. There is no way to earn extra good time. Would someone please help?

Posted by: karen justus | Jul 11, 2011 12:13:51 PM

My husband has been sentance recently and will be in a federal prison, rite now he is in a detention center close to Corpus Christy Tx... my question is if there is something we can do so that they don't move him far away from home. I am pregnant and i have no income nor someone that can take me to visit him if he gets transfered far away, is there anything i can do so he doesn't get transfered and so he can stay close to family?? My other question is what are some ways that he can get time reduced in there?? I know that a new law passed and that inmates can get 15% off there sentence for good behaviour... is there any other ways they can get time reduced?? I also heard that instead of 15% off its 40% off for good behaviour.? Is this true? Is there any hope? I really don't have no one eles to go to for this type of questions.. Can you please help... anyone? Thank you.
Violet A.

Posted by: Violet N. | Sep 20, 2011 5:05:22 PM

My husband has been sentence for 20 years and is in a low facility federal prison. He was sentenced 2 months ago on a drug conspiracy charge. He plead gulity, because his attorney said, taking it to trial can be worse for him, since he had a prior. He has a prior drug charge of marijuana. He was enhanced and has a manditory minimum of 20 years. My husband said that his attorney, did not go over case with him write.My question: Is there anything I can do to drop or reduce the enhacement. Can I still appeal? Or file a motion to reduce sentence.

Posted by: Cilla | Jan 4, 2012 12:46:49 AM

He has one year from the time he was sentenced in Federal court, to file a motion 2255. There is a foundation called Freedom foundation that will write your review for a small price of $350.00, and in this review it will have all of the case errors or injustice that was served, and you then can hire them and the take partial payment and monthly payment plans to write the 2255 for the inmate. We just used them for my best friend who was sentenced to 30 years, for drug conspiracy and threatening a confidential informant, who was actually is girlfriend, they hired an private investigator and have her recorded saying that he never harmed her not threatened her, and she was high on meth when she went in front of the Grand Jury, not to mention she wrote him letters stating that she never said he abused her or held her hostage, but my friends attorney refused to turn this evidence over to the courts and never objected to the charges at the sentencing. He was held for over 5 years awaiting for the government to build a case against him and under federal law its suppose to be a 70 day speedy trial, unless a important official is injured, hurt, etc. but still it should not have went past 1 year, so he sat for 5 years doing nothing but sitting in a cell with all of his confidence that this court appointed attorney would represent him or counsel him correctly, he never mentioned about enhancements nor did he object to any of them. He is now having his appealed done by Freedom Foundation and if he wins his sentence will be vacated, he wont be able to get back the almost 6 years now spent in jail, but it will gain back the 24 years he is sentenced to lose if he didnt appeal. Our government is corrupt in many ways, the sad part is his ex girlfriend who was the CI she set up her own parents and they conspired with these drug dealers and everyone went to jail except for Lindsey Harrington the CI. My friend only provided money and never was found with any quanity of drug on him or in his possession nor was he videoed in any illegal activity, only the mother, father and daugher Lindsey Harrington were conspiring and who ever gives up the most info in the end or better yet snitches gets to walk, and that is exactly what happen the parents got under 10 years and lindsey didnt even get a day, till this day she is still selling narcotics and probably still works for the feds. Justice is a corrupted system, and at least 10% of the people in federal prison or there under inefficient counseling and if we dont stand up as a community and question these pricks, we will soon have no family members that are not affected by the loopholes of the Federal Justice system.

Posted by: Tara Andrews | Mar 8, 2012 8:00:14 PM

Not only am I a student, but I am also someone who served one of those draconian sentences with the BOP for a total of 16 years for a federal drug crime. I want to note that everyday from the creation of your blog I would have someone print it off and mail it to me, or email a copy EVERYDAY! It was my connection to the justice system and what was truly going on within it and not just a bunch of unfounded rumors. I would share the news with everyone at the camp daily and I always believed that something would eventually happen to provide me with an early release. Unfortunately, for me, that never happened, but I do hope that perhaps maybe the time has come and that more good-time will be given to so many deserving citizens since those 7 days are something that the BOP has been taking from inmates with their calculations since the beginning of the new law in 1986. Keep us posted, and help make sure that the BOP doesn't have the jurisdiction to make the decisions because if they do, no one will ever get a thing!

Posted by: Debi | Mar 19, 2012 9:21:17 AM

my dad was sentenced to over six years for a crime he did not do. He was questioned by a single FBI agent, my dad answered the questions and was asked to write a statement, my dad could not read or write so the agent offered to write his statement. Three days after the first interview he was asked to meet again, this time several agents met with him and asked him to wear a wire, my dad refused to participate in such an activity. The FBI put a three page confession on the table that was written by them and told my dad to wear the wire or go to prison. My dad denied what was written in the confession and refussed to wear the wire. He adventually pled not guilty during two trials, the false confession was used to find him guilty. Everyone needs to know there is no law requiring the beloved FBI to record confessions. They seem to be above the law, they can do what ever they want. My dad is seventy one, with one lung and dependant on oxygen. The Federal prison he is in has no air. i fear he will not live out his sentence. Elderly Non violent offenders with health problems should be let out early. Look at the financial burdon this puts on our country, let the family tend to them. For Gods sake if someone with any political ties reads this please help make a law that would require the almighty FBI to record confessions, and change the manditory sentence law. why do we even need a judge, they have a chart to use to sentence you and usualy always side with the government in a trial as far as proceedings go.

Posted by: Roy Holder | Jul 2, 2012 12:32:02 AM

will someone tell me. what kind of justice will allow a law to pass ,that will allow the system ,when they dont have enough evidence ,to go and get someone to sign a statment on someone and cause them to receive more time because of their word. looks like it is conspirecy on the part of the system.one day someone has to give in account of this.this is sooooooo wrong in the worst way. everyone deserves a chance to make it in this world. looks like the goverment is making money off this inmates .could that be the reason they dont want to let them out.its their benefit.they keep the money the families bring in. remind u that the ones that sign the statements are already in prison.if they r so truthful why are inmates too.

Posted by: GLENDA MCDONALD | Jul 5, 2012 4:32:44 PM

26% are non US citizens? HMMM? Why not send the non violent ones back home after they serve 1 year? I was in Lompoc FPC back in 2005, Serving a 5 year sentence for drugs. It was kinda funny. I met this one illegal Juan when i first got in. He was 1 week away from release. After serving 10 years, Juan got released, Then deported. 2 years later Juan was back. He got 5 years for illegal reentry after removal. LOL. It really makes no difference. You give a illegal 3,10,20,50 years? Its does not matter they will still come back. Juan told me its the choice between life or death. If he stayed in his country he would have starved to death. If the BOP would just start deporting all the illegals right now, By next week they would only be 15% above capacity.

Posted by: Johneverymann | Aug 27, 2012 10:27:19 AM


My husband is in a BOP in Seattle, WA. he will get sentenced no later than January 2013, my questions what is the law called?, did it pass? if any for reducing time in prision? please let me know as soon as possible.

tank you,

Posted by: Sonia Ochoa | Nov 26, 2012 5:55:26 PM

My fiance was sentenced to 150 months and 120 months in october of 2012, The charges he was coerced into pleading guilty for were based upon evidence the officers found in the locked car we were standing next to when they served the arrest warrant. One of his charges was felon in possession of a firearm. He is now labeled a violent criminal, He was led to believe that his sentence would be between 71-87 months total, instead he was given almost double that. He was told on by his supposed best friend, who was caught manufacturing meth for the 3rd time, but instead of 25 years in prison, he is walking free, because he gave the "feds" 3 felons who supposedly had guns. Now my future husband has a release date of 2023, our 3 kids who are 2, 6, and 9 will be 12, 16, and 19...WE are appealing, if anyone has any information on the freedom foundation that was mentioned above i'd greatly appreciate it. Also i will be starting petitions on change.org regarding federal inmates phone time, and many more issues.

Posted by: Manda | Mar 16, 2013 10:45:30 AM

My husband was sentenced for 6 yrs in prison for something he didn't do. Actually his friend Rene was involved. He was drug dealing keeping the money and I guess they caught him, so the Feds made a deal with him and he snitched on everyone. They had evidence against everyone yet nothing on my husband, but since Feds couldn't admit they were wrong he was convicted. He was convicted just because the snitch said he was involved. We fought the feds thinking theres nothing he didnt do anything, but got screwed & got 6 years with a clean record. To top it of Rene got 21 months and went to prison 5 months after his sentencing. How nice he had money a new truck a car a corvette oh and a big house.

Posted by: Mary | Aug 21, 2013 9:49:01 PM

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