January 23, 2003 - USA Today

Federal Prisons Packed with Almost 165,000

By Kevin Johnson, USA Today

WASHINGTON - At a time when tight budgets have forced many states to consider the early release of hundreds of inmates to cut costs, the federal prison system is bursting at the seams and ranks as the largest in the nation.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons reported a population of nearly 165,000 this month, making the system larger than perennial prison giants California and Texas.

At least part of the increase, officials say, is because of a growing pool of non-citizen offenders who represent nearly one-third of the federal inmate population.

The majority have been convicted of drug-related crimes, and their numbers jumped from 22% in 1998 to 28% in 2002.

The Bureau of Prisons is one of the fastest-growing arms of the federal government. In 1980, the bureau's budget was $330 million, and there were 24,000 inmates in 44 prisons. In 2002, the budget was $4.6 billion, and there were 102 prisons. Eleven more federal prisons are in various stages of construction.

"Our growth and population management has been one of the fundamental issues we've had to address," bureau spokesman Dan Dunne says.

More than a decade of new legislation expanding federal jurisdiction, strict sentencing guidelines, the abolishment of parole and the recent transfer of more than 8,000 inmates from the custody of the District of Columbia has ensured steady growth. The system's population is projected to reach nearly 190,000 in 2005.

The growth comes as several states look to dismantle vast departments built during the 1990s.

In California, more non-violent drug offenders are being diverted to treatment programs, legislators are floating plans for the early release of felons and prison construction has been slowed to accommodate deep cuts in prison budgets. Prisons spokesman Margot Bach says good-time credits were increased Jan. 1, allowing inmates two days credit for every good day served. And more low-level security prisoners are being approved to participate in community service projects.

Texas prisons spokesman Larry Fitzgerald says the state's inmate population has been level for the past three years. "We're not letting people walk out the door, but we are being asked to tighten our belts," Fitzgerald says.

Judith Greene, a New York-based corrections policy researcher, says state prison systems are considering drastic measures because they generally represent larger portions of state budgets.

In Iowa, Greene says, officials were discussing a massive prison lockdown plan and a furlough of prison guards to cut costs. "There are a lot of Draconian things being discussed in the states," she says, "but the federal system is on quite a consistent upward curve."

Drugs getting into federal prisons too easily, report says

By Toni Locy, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - Federal prisons fail to search visitors adequately and need more security cameras and personnel to thwart drug smuggling to inmates, a report released Wednesday says.

The report by the Justice Department inspector general sheds light on how the use and trafficking of drugs have become significant problems in the federal prison system, whose inmate population has boomed since the 1980s. Drug laws that increased the number of federal crimes and lengthened sentences have raised the number of inmates in the federal system from 24,000 in 1980 to nearly 165,000. (Related story: Prisons packed with almost 165,000)

Drug addiction and a lack of treatment are ongoing problems at the nation's 102 federal prisons, according to the report, which found that visitors, prison staff and the mail are the main ways drugs are getting into the prisons.

From 1997 to 2001, the report said, more than 2,800 inmates tested positive for drugs each year. In 2001, the prisons' overall rate for positive tests was nearly 2%. The results varied among prisons and were as high as nearly 8% at a high-security unit in Beaumont, Texas.
The report said the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) does not provide enough drug treatment because it relies on outdated estimates of inmates with drug problems. The report said the bureau's estimate of 34% is at odds with more recent research that places the percentage at 50% to 80%.

Key avenues for drugs to enter prisons are "contact" visits in which inmates are allowed to touch family members and friends, the report said. Drugs have been passed to inmates through soda cans, babies' diapers and kisses, the report said.

The report said the bureau does not police its employees through random drug testing, despite winning a court case in 1993 that allows such tests. It also said that efforts to find drugs are hurt by the bureau's failure to search prison employees' duffel bags and coolers.
"The vast majority of BOP employees have high integrity, but a few corrupt staff can do enormous damage to the safety and security of an institution," said Glenn Fine, the inspector general.

The report said prisons should:
* Perform "pat" searches of visitors.
* Buy more surveillance cameras and other equipment to detect drugs.
Use more drug-sniffing dogs. There is only one canine unit in the prison system; it's assigned to the facility in Lewisburg, Pa.

Dan Dunne, a prisons spokesman, said several of the recommendations are being implemented. He said employee drug tests would begin soon. But he said the bureau does not have much money for more staff or equipment. "The bureau has made significant progress to prevent the introduction, possession and use of drugs," he said. "We are doing the best we can with the resources we have."

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