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February 27, 2013

"Sequestration Will Wreak Chaos On U.S. Federal Prisons"

The title of this post is the headline of this very interesting new piece from Business Insider.  Here are excerpts:

Sequestration will hit each and every aspect of the U.S. government, but for the Bureau of Prisons, the impact could be horrifying. According to the Attorney General's office, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will have to handle a rising number of inmates with a major budget reduction, a cut of $338 million.

And while other agencies can find ways to do more with less — for example, by reducing procurement, enacting hiring freezes or cutting services — BOP has to maintain constant security at federal prisons around the country with even less money. The solutions will not be pretty.

In an email to Business Insider, a spokesperson from the Department of Justice said that they are "acutely concerned about staff and inmate safety should sequestration occur." The Department indicated that it may at times maintain a minimum level of staff for security purposes, and that lock-downs may be required.

The Bureau oversees 188 facilities and contracts 16 facilities out to private prison companies.  Currently, there is a grand total of 217,249 inmates in the federal prison system, a number BOP expects to rise to 229,300 by the end of 2013. In 2012, the BOP had a budget of $6.6 billion, with 41,310 employees. Correctional officers make up around half of the staff, with 19,756 employees in 2012.

According to DOJ, the sequester budget cuts will result in 5 percent reduction in the Bureau's workforce, which will be achieved by freezing future hiring and furloughing 36,700 staff for an average of 12 days. This means that almost every employee will have to go home without pay for some time, leaving BOP to function at unnecessarily low security levels.

Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that this reduction in force would endanger the lives of staff and inmates. According to the Attorney General, the BOP will have to implement full or partial lock downs across the board. In a letter to Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Holder said "This would leave inmates idle, increasing the likelihood of inmate misconduct, violence, and other risks to correctional workers and inmates."

Complicating all of this is the fact that the federal prison system is already severely overcapacity. According to the 2012 Justice Department annual report, the system is 38 percent overcapacity, a problem that the Department has identified as a major weakness. But efforts to find a solution will be thwarted by the sequester.

In 2013, the BOP was slated to activate 5 new prisons throughout the system, alleviating the crunch with 8,100 new beds. In addition to cuts in guards, those projects will have to be delayed, exacerbating the overcrowding problem further. On top of these issues, Holder reported that the BOP will be forced to curtail or cancel some of the crucial rehabilitation programs that bring long term savings to the criminal justice system....

Jesselyn McCurdy, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who specializes in civil liberties in the criminal justice system, is very concerned about the impact that the cuts will have on inmates. “"Sequestration could result in disaster for people in federal prisons who already live in dangerously overcrowded conditions,”" McCurdy said.

The private prison industry, which is largely dependent on federal contracts, is also worried about the cuts. Damon Hininger, CEO of Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison companies, voiced these concerns on a February 14 call to investors.

Through not mentioned in this article, it is interesting to consider that the passage of reduced crack guidelines which were made retroactive likely has help prevent this bad situation from being even worse.  Absent the sentencing reductions from reduced crack guidelines passed in 2007 and 2010, the current federal prison population would perhaps already be creeping up near 250,000.

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February 27, 2013 at 01:16 AM | Permalink


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This is way overblown. There are tons of areas to cut in the prison system that do not include reducing security staff. It is political, as the administration wants to portray the cuts to the rate of growth as being Draconian. The BOP will receive more funding than last year, not less.

Posted by: Tarlsqtr1 | Feb 27, 2013 7:11:37 AM

I am a reader/writer at a local community college.

What impact will sequestration have on those states with civil commitment facilities for offenders who have served their time? Would reduction of security staff there lead to major Attica-like unrest among detainees?

Posted by: william r. delzell | Feb 27, 2013 10:04:17 AM

The reduced crack guidelines might help if they make it retroactively apply to everyone.
For instance, my fiancée is serving a mandatory minimum sentence of 240 months. Due to be released in 2018, he has already served more than half his time,
had the passage been made retroactive for mandatory minimum sentences he would have been released already. Im sure there are thousands more of non-violent drug offenders that fall into this category.
Not just crack cocaine but other drugs offenders. So furthermore if they do away with one size fits all mandatory minimums and make it retroactive, that's a significant savings right there and they would have all the room they needed for the new influx of prisoners coming in. But of course we all know that too many in power are making more money off these prisoners, so it's really there pockets that they are concerned about and not ours.

Posted by: Jenette Williams | Feb 27, 2013 10:18:13 AM

Jenette Williams stated: "So furthermore if they do away with one size fits all mandatory minimums and make it retroactive, that's a significant savings right there."

Much of the alleged savings are illusory, based more on moving money around to different accounts within government. Crackheads cost us money regardless if they are getting their food from prison mess hall or their food stamp card. Crackheads cost us money if they get drug rehab from prison or on the street. Not to mention the price of crime on society.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Feb 27, 2013 12:51:15 PM

A very small number of guards can control a larger number of inmates, and improve inmate safety too, if the lawyer can be neutralized, and painful corporal punishment can return. The lash.

The ACLU is a front organization for lawyer rent seeking.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 27, 2013 1:10:12 PM

There are many non-violent marijuana offenders serving their sentences in high security facilities. This security designation is inappropriate and costly. I suspect that there are economic interests promoting these designations. I'm sure that this also applies to other non-violent drug offenders.

There is not much attention given to the designation of security for various categories of offenders, but some attention should be given to this costly decision making.

Posted by: beth | Feb 27, 2013 1:29:12 PM

The reference to private prisons in the Business Insider article is interesting. My understanding is that some of the private prison contracts--including Ohio's Lake Erie facility that CCA owns--contain clauses that guarantee that the company will be paid for a specified bed space capacity (e.g., 90%) no matter how much bed space the state actually uses (see USA Today article about this here: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-03-01/buying-prisons-require-high-occupancy/53402894/1).

Wouldn't this mean that releasing folks would make no impact on the prison corporation? The only way around this that I can see would be if the contract also contains some kind of fiscal emergency clause. I'm curious whether anyone has more insight on this.

César | crImmigration.com

Posted by: César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández | Feb 27, 2013 3:55:59 PM

To the anonymous person who responded to my post;
Ignorance is not bliss.
Not all drug offenders are addicted to drugs
and Not all drug addicts are on welfare.

Posted by: Jenette Williams | Feb 27, 2013 4:37:49 PM

How about just ending the stupid Drug War? Then, the useless, evil DEA can be disbanded.

That should save a few bucks.

Posted by: Charles Evans | Feb 27, 2013 11:19:08 PM

To Jenette Williams,

Did I say they ALL were? If so, please quote.

The substance of my post still stands. Releasing the group of prisoners you propose will still cost taxpayers a great deal of money and much of the savings you allege are illusory.

Posted by: Tarlsqtr1 | Feb 28, 2013 7:16:42 AM

To Tq1:

"Did I say they ALL were? If so, please quote."

Are you the illegitimate "Grand Theft Auto" playing son of TQ1?

If it wasn't you, it was your Corrections Dad TQ1.

Posted by: albeed | Mar 3, 2013 3:35:01 PM

" for the Bureau of Prisons, the impact could be horrifying. "

Oh, Jesus. Hysterical, much?

Here's the breakdown of federal prisoners by type of crime, they aren't exactly housing a majority of murderers, rapists, or others who are an imminent threat to public safety:

Drug Offenses: 90,394 (47.4 %)
Weapons, Explosives, Arson: 30,714 (16.1 %)
Immigration: 22,913 (12.0 %)
Robbery: 7,956 (4.2 %)
Burglary, Larceny, Property Offenses: 7,518 (3.9 %)
Extortion, Fraud, Bribery: 10,835 (5.7 %)
Homicide, Aggravated Assault, and Kidnapping Offenses: 5,661 (3.0 %)
Miscellaneous: 1,562 (0.8 %)
Sex Offenses: 11,229 (5.9 %)
Banking and Insurance, Counterfeit, Embezzlement: 835 (0.4 %)
Courts or Corrections: 615 (0.3 %)
Continuing Criminal Enterprise: 494 (0.3 %)
National Security: 83 (0.0 %)

First, take all the white collar criminals and put them on home confinement. Tax evaders, crooked pols, etc, they aren't exactly a threat to public safety in the same sense murderers or armed robbers are.

Then, review the drug cases. Let the truly non-violent drug offenders, the low level mules, those convicted purely of "conspiracy" because they said something or answered a phone call and the medical marijuana people out, too.

Shorten sentences if they are within 12/24 months of release. Stop the stupid "Supervised Release" requirement after their sentences are done.

Use probation more for first time offenders.

Deport people NOW who are going to be deported anyway after their sentences are served. Don't wait. I've never understood WHY the government keeps people in prison in that circumstance.

The state I live in has a program where almost any felon except those convicted of the highest degree crime, can apply for (and frequently they are granted) an early supervised release, independent of how much time is left on their sentence. Our state's crime rate has been and continues to be, lower than the national average.

Posted by: 8th Amendment | Mar 3, 2013 7:18:27 PM

Yeah, "tarlsq" the former prison employee wants everyone to believe it is less expensive to keep an addict in prison than it is to have them freed.

Let's go along with tarlsq's conceit that every inmate is a "crackhead" and that every single "crackhead" has no family and no job prospects once said "crackhead" is released.

I'm pretty sure, in fact I'm 100% certain, that the cost of the food stamp program per person per year plus the cost of, oh, let's get crazy and say the addict gets 28 days of inpatient tx EVERY single year --- the amount of taxpayer cash needed to accomplish that is still less than the 28 grand per year the Feds spend to keep one inmate incarcerated.

Posted by: 8thAmendment | Mar 4, 2013 4:15:09 PM

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