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Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP): Operations and Budget

Nathan James Analyst in Crime Policy

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was established in 1930 to house federal inmates, professionalize the prison service, and ensure consistent and centralized administration of the federal prison system. The BOP is the largest correctional agency in the country, in terms of the number of prisoners under its jurisdiction. The BOP must confine any offender convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment in a federal court.

All BOP correctional facilities are classified according to one of five different security levels: minimum, low, medium, high, or administrative. An inmate’s designation to a particular institution is based primarily on the level of security and supervision the inmate requires; the level of security and staff supervision the institution is able to provide; and the inmate’s program needs. All inmates undergo a comprehensive intake screening when they are admitted to a BOP facility. The BOP provides health care for all inmates either through each prison’s ambulatory care clinics or by contracting for services through local hospitals. The BOP also provides mental health treatment to inmates who demonstrate a need for it through staff psychologists. The BOP has an established inmate disciplinary system, whereby sanctions are imposed on inmates for committing prohibited acts. An inmate is allowed to request a review of his or her conditions of confinement through the BOP’s Administrative Remedy Program. Inmates have access to a variety of rehabilitational programs including education programs, substance abuse treatment, vocational education, and work opportunities. In order to help aid an inmate’s transition back into the community, inmates can be placed in a Residential Reentry Center (i.e., a halfway house) for a period of time before their sentence expires.

Changes in federal criminal justice policy since the early 1980s have resulted in a continued increase in the federal prison population. The number of inmates under the BOP’s jurisdiction has increased nearly eight-fold (788%) from approximately 25,000 inmates in FY1980 to nearly 219,000 inmates in FY2012. Since FY1980, the federal prison population has increased, on average, by approximately 6,100 inmates each year.

The burgeoning federal prison population has led Congress to increase appropriations for the BOP’s operations and infrastructure. In FY1980, Congress appropriated $330.0 million for the BOP. By FY2013, the total appropriation for the BOP reached $6.445 billion. The additional funding for the BOP was necessary to cover the costs of providing services to a growing prison population, expanding prison capacity, and hiring additional staff to manage the expanding federal prison system.

The annual growth in the federal prison population has outstripped the BOP’s prison capacity, resulting in overcrowding in the federal prison system. Congress could choose to mitigate some of the issues related to federal prison population growth by appropriating more funding so the BOP could hire additional staff and expand prison capacity to alleviate overcrowding. On the other hand, Congress could also consider ways to reduce the number of inmates held in federal prison by considering alternatives to incarceration, such as increasing good time credit for inmates who participate in certain rehabilitative programs, placing more low-level offenders on community supervision in lieu of incarceration, or reducing mandatory minimum penalties for some offenses.

Date of Report: June 3, 2013
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: R42486
Price: $29.95

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