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New Report Blames Failed Policies For 790% Jump in Federal Prison Population

Wednesday, 20 February 2013 10:26 By Staff, ACLU | Press Release
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Washington, DC – A new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) attributes staggering growth in the federal prison population over the last 30 years in part to failed sentencing and correctional policies. The ACLU, a longtime advocate for significantly decreasing the federal prison population, supports some of the report’s recommendations, but not all—including transferring prisoners to private prisons, which are not subject to public scrutiny and accountability. The ACLU released a report in 2011 on the successful efforts of several states to reduce their prison populations and reform our country’s broken criminal justice system.

“States are truly leading the charge on this and leaving the federal government behind,” said Vanita Gupta, ACLU Deputy Legal Director. “While states are making smart reforms to their own ineffective and costly criminal justice systems, the federal criminal justice system is more bloated than ever. If we are going to safely end our addiction to incarceration, the feds should draw inspiration from the states and push for data-driven criminal justice policies that will focus on public safety and reduce the number of people behind bars.”

According to the report, the increase is due largely to changes in federal sentencing and correctional policy, including mandatory minimum sentences and the elimination of federal parole. The result has been a “historically unprecedented” increase that has impacted hundreds of thousands of lives and cost billions of dollars:

  • From 1980 to 2012, the federal prison population has ballooned from 25,000 to 219,000, a 790% increase.
  • Population has increased by approximately 6,100 inmates each year since 1980. In the 50 years before that, the population increased by 12,000 total.
  • From 2000 to 2011, appropriations for the Bureau of Prisons increased by more than $2.7 billion.

“This report details many reasons why we need criminal law reform in this country,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “Some of the CRS recommendations, such as building more prisons or contracting with more private prisons, only serve as band-aid solutions to addressing the unsustainable federal prison population. Other proposals, such as reducing mandatory minimums, repealing redundant federal crimes, increasing good time credit and alternatives to prison are answers that will safely result in long term reductions.”

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