Federal Prison Expansion

Overcrowding Reduced but Inmate Population Growth May Raise Issue Again Gao ID: GGD-94-48 December 14, 1993

The inmate population of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has risen dramatically in recent years, a trend that is expected to continue. BOP has acted on many of GAO's recommendations for expanding capacity, including greater use of double-bunking in facilities, better use of halfway houses, and use of surplus military property in prisons. But BOP has yet to pursue statutory authority that would allow it to explore whether private prisons would be a cost-effective alternative at the federal level. BOP, which has received more than $3.1 billion in federal funding to increase bed capacity, has increased its number of facilities from 70 in 1989 to 103 in 1993; it plans to have 51 more facilities up and running by 1997. But if no changes are made to sentencing laws and if prison construction is not funded in the budgets for fiscal years 1994 and beyond to accommodate the expected growth, overcrowding could again become a serious problem in the late 1990s. Policymakers are considering revising the sentencing guidelines and laws to permit the use of alternative sanctions. Changing these law enforcement policies could effect the total prison capacity needed; types of facilities needed; and the resource requirements of other law enforcement entities, such as the judiciary's Probation Service.

GAO found that: (1) BOP has improved its efforts to expand prison capacity by making better use of double-bunking and halfway houses and has evaluated surplus military property for prison use; (2) although BOP has the authority to contract with the private sector for the operation of its facilities, it does not support the use of private prisons for its adult inmate population; (3) during 1992, BOP increased its total prison capacity by approximately 6,000 beds and reduced overcrowding by 9 percent; (4) approved construction and expansion plans should decrease overcrowding systemwide to about 4 percent by 1997; (5) BOP has redesignated the missions of five of its facilities to accommodate its expansion needs at low- and minimum-security facilities; (6) the opening of some new low-security facilities has been delayed due to construction delays; (7) BOP has identified 83 unused or underutilized military properties as potential sites for correctional facilities; (8) surplus military property would provide BOP with expansion capacity at a substantially lower cost than construction of new correctional facilities; and (9) tough sentencing policies have a direct impact on the growth of the federal prison population and BOP expansion needs.

The Justia Government Accountability Office site republishes public reports retrieved from the U.S. GAO These reports should not be considered official, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Justia.