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October 7, 2022

In the wake of historic pardons, noticing the federal prison population keeps growing during the Biden years

As a matter of pardon practice and marijuana policy, President Joe Biden's actions yesterday (basics here and here) qualify as both historic and consequential.  But, because nobody receives significant federal prison time for just simple marijuana possession, his mass pardon has absolutely no direct impact on the federal prison population.  I suspect some persons imprisoned for marijuana trafficking might cite the pardons in compassionate release motions, but I doubt these pardons alone will significantly impact how judges thinking about compassionate release issues.

More broadly, the same day as this pardon announcement, I thought to check the prison population numbers that the federal Bureau of Prisons updates weekly at this webpage.  As of October 6, 2022, the federal prison population clocks in at 158,949, which is the highest it has been since July 2020.   

The day after Joe Biden was inaugurated, I authored this post posing this 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 recent realities about the the federal prison population (based on BOP data); there I highlighted that during Prez Trump's one term, the federal population count decreased almost 20%, dropping from 189,212 total federal inmates in January 2017 to 151,646 in January 2021. 

The dramatic federal prison population drop in the Trump years was largely a function of the FIRST STEP Act and especially COVID dynamics.  So, with COVID disruptions easing, it should not be too surprising to see some growth in the federal prison population.  Still, over the course of 21 months, we have now had the federal prison population grow over 7,300 persons, which amounts to federal population growth of almost 5%.  So, while I am eager to celebrate Prez Biden for getting out his clemency pen, there is still plenty more work to do.

October 7, 2022 at 11:08 AM | Permalink


It's beyond obvious that the best way to reduce the prison population is for prospective criminals to refrain from the behavior they're contemplating. But this in the one thing I never see suggested here, because the only fault lies with the BIG BAD SYSTEM.

I guess there are people who actually believe this, but, fortunately, not very many.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 7, 2022 12:44:54 PM

My observation from dealing with thousands of BOP inmates is that almost all knew that what they were doing was wrong; the common thread is that most thought ha the were smart enough that the could avoid detection and not get caught, a bet the lost.

In the realm of marijuana offenses, the world is somewhat different, since marijuana possession, cultivation and use is socially acceptable to at least the 44 million to 47 million Americans who use marijuana on a monthly basis. Governor Andy Beshear's (D. Ky.) Marijuana Commission recently found that more than 80% of adult Kentuckians favor legalizing medical marijuana, but our conservative Republican legislators have refused to do it.

I have a high school friend, now 62, whose adult life has been seriously harmed by a Kentucky felony marijuana cultivation conviction she got a age 20. Her boyfriend at the time gave her 28 marijuana seeds to start growing in white styrafoam coffee cups. At the time she was arrested, the young plants were each about 3 inches tall. Because she was growing more than 5 plants, her cultivation charge was a felony, not a misdemeanor. This conviction has adversely affected her employability and ability to rent apartments, even in Georgia, where she has lived for more than 20 years now. I have long suggested that she apply to the Kentucky Governor for a pardon. She has no been arrested or charged with an other crime in more than 40 years.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Oct 9, 2022 10:17:16 AM

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