Reinstating federal parole is smart economics
Compiled by Chuck Armsbury, Razor Wire senior editor
As members of the House Judiciary Committee begin consideration of HR 3072, legislation to reinstate parole system for federal prisoners, auditors and other economic advisors will raise tough questions about money, as well as safety and accountability.
Some of those tough questions have to do with evaluating costs and benefits. How much money will it cost to implement a revamped parole system? Even more importantly, will there be substantial, overall savings and added income by slowing down and reversing the cancerous growth of new prison systems across the nation?
Two federal prisoners, Glenn Early and Al Battone, each did a budgetary analysis of projected savings if a parole system were to replace the current complex of mandatory minimum sentencing philosophy and laws. In April 2005, Early sent his analysis to November Coalition:
"The mathematics is rather simple. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has recently surpassed a population of 182,000 (BOP Weekly Population Report for March 31, 2005). The BOP Budget for the Fiscal Year of 2004 was $4,677,214,000. The BOP is operating at 39 percent over capacity, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, November 2004, entitled 'Prisoners in 2003.'
"If federal parole were reinstated under HR 3072, approximately 25 percent of federal prisoners would be parole-eligible within the first year of reinstatement, about 45,000 people. This projected release will reduce the capacity of the BOP to approximately 100 percent, and therefore, eliminate the need to house those paroled prisoners.
"The entire, current budget of $224,005,000 earmarked for new prison construction can be eliminated. Moreover, the cost to house and care (45,000 times $25,000 per prisoner = $1,125,000,000) for the paroled prisoners can be deducted from the BOP budget of $4,667,214,000.
"Based on my analysis of the cost effectiveness of having a federal parole system made available to most federal prisoners, the annual savings could possibly reach $1.35 billion.
"An additional benefit to the government and the taxpayers are the taxes that will be paid by those 45,000 newly paroled prisoners. Using an ultra-conservative figure of $10,000 in taxes paid per paroled person - an additional $450 million annually can be generated for federal revenue.
"Finally, when federal prisoners start serving reduced time in prison under parole laws, they will re-join the workforce at a younger age. They will have the opportunity to pay more into the Social Security fund before they collect from it, rather than be released from prison beyond age 65 and automatically be eligible for those benefits without having helped pay into the fund."
Al Battone supplied somewhat different figures and insight in his analysis of the savings to be had by a return to a system of parole for federal prisoners:
"As a result of the BOP's prisons running at 31 percent over capacity, the prison facilities are under a tremendous strain, causing more and more breakdowns of the necessary and orderly running of the facilities, and raising expenses significantly. Other unreported costs of this strain are those of overtime paid to staff to complete repairs and to secure the overcrowding problem.
"Once US Parole is restored, the cost of building more federal prisons would be eliminated. If parole is not returned, the inflation-adjusted cost of housing and caring for a prisoner in 2013 will be $36,570, based on data from 2003 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Without parole, it will cost the taxpayers billions of dollars to build, staff and supply a series of new prisons, or about 10 new prisons each year for the foreseeable future."
Battone continues, "Let's say 50,000 federal prisoners meet the requirements of parole. At a cost of $30,000 per year (to house and care for the incarcerated) times 50,000 eligible in first year for release, the savings of $1.5 billion a year should make any financial conservative excited. Additionally, the parolee would likely be required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, costing about $100/month, or $1,200/year. Revenue generated by 50,000 parolees after one year of parole's return would be about $60 million.
"Parolees must work. Let's say these 50,000 paroled people are earning about $20,000/year, a modest income. And assume each parolee is adding about $6,000/year into federal income tax revenue. That's about $300 million a year in first year of parole's reinstatement.
"Now add in an estimated $14,000/year spent by each parolee for rent, food, and clothing, multiply by 50,000, and there's an additional $700 million generated within our US economy.
"Adding it all up:
"$1.5 billion saved by not housing paroled prisoners + $60 million raised by parolees who wear electronic monitors + $300 million raised from income taxes paid by parolees + $700 million spent in communities for living expenses of parolee = $2.56 billion saved and generated each year under a new parole system.
"The estimated $2.56 billion is a combination of savings and added income to our national economy. Add in no additional costs for new prison construction plus the hidden costs of maintaining and running prisons, and we're looking at several billions of dollars saved and adding to our communities each year under a reinstated federal parole system."
Battone offers additional estimates of benefits to society under a restored parole system. He does similar arithmetic to show how much money would be circulated through the professional ranks of parole officials who would be monitoring parolees, about $42 million per year.
Glenn Early and Al Battone deserve respect and congratulations for estimating the dollar-amount to be saved under a revived system of federal parole. If others question their estimates, so be it, and let the numerical contest begin. we feature their work, and others, at www.november.org.
If you've done similar numerical analysis you'd like to share with others, please send November Coalition your own estimates, corrections or other comments. Demonstrate why (or why not) that it makes economic sense to stop mass incarceration of people - supplied mostly by war on drugs' prisoners - and to build a new system of earned, early release for most federal prisoners.