Prisons consuming more of DOJ budget

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About a quarter of the Justice Department budget goes to the Bureau of Prisons, which appears likely to consume more of the DOJ budget in the coming decade, the Urban Institute says.

The president's fiscal 2013 budget request for the BOP was almost $7 billion, up $278 million from the fiscal 2012 enacted budget, the institute says in a Dec. 11 report (.pdf).

Reduced sentence length for drug offenders would be the most direct way to slow the federal prison population growth, the report says. Drug offenders made up about one-third of admissions to and releases from federal prison in fiscal 2010, but about half of the end-of-year population. That indicates that lengthy sentences drive up the proportion of drug offenders in federal prison.

Drug offenders that year averaged sentences of 78 months. By substance, the averages were about 111 months for crack cocaine, 97 months for methamphetamine, 85 months for powder cocaine, 73 months for heroin and 37 months for marijuana.

Immigration and property offenders made up greater portions of the admission and release populations than the end-of-year population, a sign that their sentences were relatively short.

Though the BOP doesn't have choose sentence length, it does play a lead role in the implementation of reduced sentences for those already in prison, which can also slow the prison population growth. Still, federal law limits how much the bureau can act to reduce sentences, the report notes.

Many states have also faced growing prison costs, and the federal government should learn from their efforts, the report says. Some have revised sentencing laws, changed earned-time provisions for those who are incarcerated, and taken steps to prevent recidivism.

The annual cost of per offender of probation supervision is about $3,400, compared to about $21,000 per inmate for minimum security and almost $34,000 per inmate for high security.

For more:
- download the report, "The Growth & Increasing Cost of the Federal Prison System: Drivers and Potential Solutions" (.pdf)

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