Federal Prison Population shoots over 150,000
The population of the Federal Bureau of Prisons shot over 150,000
today, the highest number in history. "Federal imprisonment
is growing faster than NASCAR racing. The growth of Federal imprisonment
is out of control," said Eric E. Sterling, president of
the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. Sterling, a veteran Federal
criminal justice analyst, was counsel to the House Subcommittee
on Crime from 1981 to 1989.
When President Nixon left office in 1974 there were fewer than
24,000 Federal prisoners. There were fewer than 50,000 Federal
prisoners when President Reagan left office in 1989. The 100,000
mark was reached only in 1997. The Federal Bureau of Prisons
(BOP) population is posted on their website, (http://www.bop.gov)
in the Weekly Population Report. On April 13, 2001, the total
in all BOP facilities was 150,152.
Close to 60 percent of the Federal prison population is made
up of drug offenders. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission,
most new prisoners are low-level or medium level offenders. A
Department of Justice study early in the Clinton Administration
found that non-violent, low-level drug offenders with a minor
or no prior criminal record constituted 21.2 percent of the entire
prison population. After spending over $5 billion in the past
decade to build new Federal prisons, overcrowding has increased
from 22 percent to 32 percent over capacity.
The President's FY 2002 budget, announced this week, for prisons
is $4.7 billion, with another $1 billion for more construction.
In 1986, when Federal mandatory minimum sentences were enacted,
the BOP budget was $0.7 billion.
cancer-like growth in Federal imprisonment requires several steps.
First, Attorney General Ashcroft should direct Federal law enforcement
agencies to refer low-level cases to state and local law enforcement
agencies, and reserve Federal cases only for major international
or national impact cases. The Attorney General should order Main
Justice Department review of all proposed low-level drug prosecutions,"
said Sterling. Such a review would be required by the Major Drug
Trafficking Prosecution Act (H.R. 1681, 106th Congress), introduced
by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and 35 co-sponsors.
"Second, the President should dramatically increase Federal
drug treatment funding. An additional expenditure of $680 million
could reduce American cocaine consumption by about 20% (according
to a 1994 RAND Corporation analysis), and would have a major
impact on crime and the insurgencies in Colombia. This would
be a tiny fractional increase in Federal health care spending.
"Third, President Bush should order a comprehensive review
of the cases of low-level drug offenders and plan to release
a significant number of them by Christmas. He should ask Federal
judges to suggest to him prisoners who might deserve commutations
of sentence. He should revamp the reprieve and pardon function
housed in the overworked Office of the Pardon Attorney. Commuting
the sentences of 1000 low-level offenders could save roughly
$300 million over five years," concluded Sterling.
Eric E. Sterling, an attorney, was counsel to the U.S. House
Judiciary Committee from 1979 to 1989, where he was principally
responsible for anti-drug legislation and other anti-crime matters.
Since 1989, he has been President of The Criminal Justice Policy
Foundation, a non-profit center that educates the nation about
criminal justice issues.