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May 13, 2022

Federal prison population up a lot more than another 1,500 persons in a little more than a month

Regular readers are now used to my regular monthly posts about the federal prison population based on Bureau of Prison data.  These posts of late have regularly noted significant and steady population growth in recent months  In this post on March 18, I noted that the federal prison population had grown by over 1,100 persons in just four weeks from mid February and mid March.  And this post on April 8 noted that it then took only three weeks for another 1000+ person surge of federal prisoners between mid March and early April. 

The federal Bureau of Prisons now has updated reporting of "Total Federal Inmates" as of May 12, 2022, and these basic growth trends are continuing.  As of April 7, 2022, the official BOP count was at 155,274, but now as of May 12, the total number of federal inmates is at 156,939.  So, in just the last five weeks, there has been another 1,655 more federal prisoners added to the population compared to the total in early April.  If this pace of federal prison growth continues in coming months, it is quite possible that 2022 could experience a level of federal incarceration growth we have not seen in decades. 

As I have said before, I am inclined to guess that this recent spike in the number of federal prisoners reflects some "return to normal" operations for the federal criminal justice system, with fewer COVID-related delays in cases and prison admissions (and fewer COVID-related releases).  Such a development (especially after 2021 being a year of notable federal prison population growth) would be particularly significant given that candidate Joe Biden promised to "take bold action to reduce our prison population" and to "broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes."   To his credit, since my last posting on prison population, Prez Biden did grant 75 commutation to federal inmates (most of whom were already serving their time on home confinement).  But a one-time grant of 75 clemencies necessarily looks somewhat paltry in the face of week-over-week-over-week-over-week federal prison population growth averaging more than 300 persons.

May 13, 2022 at 09:12 AM | Permalink


I do tend to obsess about the inmate population in the BOP. To me, these numbers represent the impact of the criminal justice system on real people.

It's interesting that the number of inmates who are released needs to be factored into the discussion. During the Obama administration the average number of inmates released per year was 46,733. This is much higher than the Trump administration when the average number of inmates released per year was 41,639. You would think that this would result in a more rapid reduction in the population of the BOP from 2009 to 2016, however this was not the case.

The only way to explain this is that there were far more people entering the BOP from 2009 to 2016. In other words there were more people prosecuted during this eight year span. The most rapid reduction in the BOP population was from 2016 to 2020 yet there were not as many inmates released. It can only be explained by the decrease of prosecutions.

During the first year of the Biden administration there were only 35,102 inmates released. This is the smallest number since 2002. Is the increase due to more prosecutions or fewer releases?

I have to say, when I started looking at the release numbers I was astounded that they were so high. The doj has to be working full time to replace these inmates. I'm interested to see if there is another way of looking at this.

Posted by: beth curtis | May 13, 2022 2:46:19 PM

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