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November 4, 2021

Federal prison population has now grown more than 4,300 persons (almost 3%) in just last six month

Prez Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to "take bold action to reduce our prison population."  But I cannot think of a single action he has taken over his first 10 months in office, let alone any "bold action," to reduce the federal prison population.  And the latest numbers from the federal Bureau of Prisons tell a notably story of federal prison population growth, not reduction, so far in the the Biden era.

The day after Joe Biden was inaugurated, I authored this post posing a question in the title: "Anyone bold enough to make predictions about the federal prison population — which is now at 151,646 according to BOP?".  That post highlighted notable numerical realties about the the federal prison population (based on BOP data) during recent presidencies: during Prez Obama's first term in office, the federal prison population increased about 8%, climbing from 201,668 at the end of 2008 to 218,687 at the end of 2012; during Prez Trump's one term in office, this population count decreased almost 20%, dropping from 189,212 total federal inmates in January 2017 to 151,646 in January 2021.

At the 100 day mark of the Biden Administration, I noted in this post that the prison population in the first few months of the Biden era had held pretty steady.  Specifically, as of May 6, 2021, the federal prison population clocked in at 152,085, an increase of just over 500 persons in inauguration day.  But now the BOP update of the federal prison population as of Nov. 4, 2021 reports 156,428 "Total Federal Inmates."  Thus, over the last six months, the total federal prison population has grown nearly 3% with more than 4,300 additional inmates.

This prison growth, I suspect, is mostly a function of the federal criminal justice system returning to more case-processing normalcy as COVID concerns recede.  (The reduction in COVID concerns also likely is resulting in fewer grants of compassionate release and perhaps a greater willingness of some judges to order the start of prison terms.)  Increased concerns about violent crime might also be playing a role, directly or indirectly, in the flow of prisoners in and out of federal facilities.

Though a range of uncertain factors may be driving the significant uptick in federal prisoners over the last six months, I am certainly inclined to now predict that we will see continued increases in the federal prison population unless and until Prez Biden makes an effort to carry out his pledge to "take bold action to reduce our prison population."  I am not holding my breath.

November 4, 2021 at 10:56 PM | Permalink


"This prison growth, I suspect, is mostly a function of the federal criminal justice system returning to more case-processing normalcy as COVID concerns recede."

So, an artificial low is balancing out, but the tenor of this post is that President Biden is failing -- before the end of the first year of his presidency while a bunch of other things he also "campaigned" on (but this blog doesn't care much about) is happening.

Including a range of things that (again that this blog doesn't care about much) help criminal justice. Me saying this is basically sneered at as "spin" (as seen in another comment thread where answering something meant me and someone else was just playing spin doctor for Biden).

I "won't hold my breath" for a more realistic take, including how it is not just on "Prez" Biden. And, I will continue to support pressure to do what is reasonably possible and appropriate to move the needle.


"a single action"

I doubt this is true since it is so absolute.

Just to cite one thing:

"The DOJ withdrew guidance issued in the previous Administration that required prosecutors to always charge the harshest sentences, replacing it with guidance that restored discretion to make decisions about charging, plea agreements, and advocacy at sentencing based on an individualized assessment of relevant facts."

This would reduce time in prison, which is a "single" thing.

He also (yes, it takes more than the 'Prez'):

"endorsed the EQUAL Act, which would eliminate the racist crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity once and for all and make the change fully retroactive."

He supported "Community Violence Intervention" which will help reduce criminal violence, leading to prison time, including in federal facilities.

I'm pretty sure multiple of his judicial picks will have some influence in dealing with confinement in some fashion.

Those who know more about this subject will likely be able to cite more. Should more be done? Sure. Meanwhile, other stuff is being done, even in the face of a lot of roadblocks.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 5, 2021 1:09:05 AM

Fair points, Joe, that the charging memo change and support for the EQUAL Act are tangible actions by the Biden Administration that we can hope will serve to reduce federal prison population growth. But Biden and his people could be making much more significant efforts to keep the federal COVID decarceration momentum going, and yet they seem content with the momentum now going in the other direction. For some the fact that Biden and his team have not yet "take[n] bold action to reduce our prison population" may be no big deal, for others (myself included) it is. Of course, there is plenty of blame to go around -- e.g., why haven't Senate leaders arranged a vote on the EQUAL Act or other key reform bills -- but the simple reality is that we've seen a nearly 3% growth in the federal prison population over the last six months and nothing Biden and his team have done or seem eager to do seems likely ASAP to change the recent trajectory.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 5, 2021 11:44:54 AM

Well, The federal prison populating began to decrease the first year of the Trump Administration long before Covid and continued to the end of Trump's term. My guess is that his lack of reverence for Administrative agencies had something to do with it - for example - there was attrition in the DEA and I believe also in the DOJ.

Posted by: beth curtis | Nov 5, 2021 2:05:36 PM

"But Biden and his people could be making much more significant efforts to keep the federal COVID decarceration momentum going, and yet they seem content with the momentum now going in the other direction."

I'm sure they can & I'm sure they have a variety of priorities.

So, when politicians promise something, it's good to look at the whole picture, including especially in the general subject at issue. As to the long term, I don't know what will happen.

They very well might think immediately other things are more important (they addressed, e.g., separated children at the border right off) but long term we will see more changes.

I appreciate the "fair point" and I welcome pressure as a whole since the net goal is important. How to quantify everything from my vantage point will be pretty hard.


As to why the numbers are changing, I'm resting here on what is offered. I don't know specifically. Something like "lack of reverence for Administrative agencies" would also be something that will hurt various things & big picture is not a good thing.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 5, 2021 3:22:59 PM

Typical anti-DEM sentiment from the perfesser.

Posted by: whatever | Nov 5, 2021 3:37:39 PM

It's back to business as usual, Federal investigators pulling in people from hearsay from the victims before them, for ghost drugs and charging them after forcing them to admit to ghost amounts or go to trial and spend most of their remaining life in prison. You know, this isn't a surprise since no one has stopped this government from stomping on the American People's Constitutional rights for decades. It's amazing how judges read the charges and see for example, this person has admitted to dealing 11 kilos in the last 7 months but they have no money, car or home, nevermind be able to hire a lawyer. A common sense person would wonder where did all the money go if they are "dealers and charged as traffickers, and the enhancements. Seems they are really careful about who they charge with this crime with no evidence but another looking for a reduction, no one with any power or money to fight it. They prey on the poor and fill up the prison system.

Posted by: Justiceforall? | Nov 6, 2021 8:13:40 PM

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