Rise in Federal Prison Population is “Unprecedented,” Says CRS

01.29.13 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

“Since the early 1980s, there has been a historically unprecedented increase in the federal prison population,” a new report from the Congressional Research Service observes.

“The number of inmates under the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) jurisdiction has increased from approximately 25,000 in FY1980 to nearly 219,000 in FY2012. Since FY1980, the federal prison population has increased, on average, by approximately 6,100 inmates each year. Data show that a growing proportion of inmates are being incarcerated for immigration- and weapons-related offenses, but the largest portion of newly admitted inmates are being incarcerated for drug offenses.”

“Changes in federal sentencing and correctional policy since the early 1980s have contributed to the rapid growth in the federal prison population,” CRS explained. “These changes include increasing the number of federal offenses subject to mandatory minimum sentences; changes to the federal criminal code that have made more crimes federal offenses; and eliminating parole.”

A number of secondary problems are attributable to the rapid growth in incarceration, CRS said, including rising financial costs, overcrowding, and deteriorating prison infrastructure.

“Should Congress choose to consider policy options to address the issues resulting from the growth in the federal prison population, policymakers could choose options such as increasing the capacity of the federal prison system by building more prisons, investing in rehabilitative programming, or placing more inmates in private prisons.”

Alternatively, CRS said, “Policymakers might also consider whether they want to revise some of the policy changes that have been made over the past three decades that have contributed to the steadily increasing number of offenders being incarcerated. For example, Congress could consider options such as (1) modifying mandatory minimum penalties, (2) expanding the use of Residential Reentry Centers, (3) placing more offenders on probation, (4) reinstating parole for federal inmates, (5) expanding the amount of good time credit an inmate can earn, and (6) repealing federal criminal statutes for some offenses.”

A copy of the new report was obtained by Secrecy News. See The Federal Prison Population Buildup: Overview, Policy Changes, Issues, and Options, January 22, 2013.

Some other noteworthy new and updated CRS reports that Congress has not made publicly available include the following.

The Increase in Unemployment Since 2007: Is It Cyclical or Structural?, January 24, 2013

Can Contractionary Fiscal Policy Be Expansionary?, January 11, 2013

First-Term Members of the House of Representatives and Senate, 64th-113th Congresses, January 25, 2013

American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat, January 23, 2013

Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia: Political Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests, January 24, 2013

The Endangered Species Act and “Sound Science”, January 23, 2013