by Deborah Caldwell
A new Congressional Research report finds that the federal prison population has risen a whopping 790 percent since 1980, from about 25,000 inmates to 219,000 in 2012.
Our federal prison population has outpaced most other first world nations and doesn’t show any signs of decreasing. The agency which prepared the report attributes the increased prison population to mandatory minimum sentences, the elimination of parole for any federal crime committed after 1987, and increasing enforcement by federal officials:
Research by the Urban Institute found that increases in expected time served contributed to half of the prison population growth between 1998 and 2010.The increase in amount of time inmates were expected to serve was probably partially the result of inmates receiving longer sentences and partially the result of inmates being required to serve approximately 85% of their sentences after Congress eliminated parole for federal prisoners.
These antiquated rules for imprisoning criminals, especially as it relates to nonviolent offenders, don’t decrease crime. They do, however, increase the expense for the federal government.
The CRS report encourages Congress to consider repealing or reducing mandatory minimums, repealing federal criminal statutes, and expanding early release and probation programs. Many states, such as South Carolina, have saved millions of dollars by putting non-violent criminals on probation instead of locking them up, where they have to be housed and fed. But the federal government has yet to follow suit.