Summary of the ProblemOver 200,000 people are incarcerated under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, making it the largest prison system in the country.  The federal prison population has increased at least three times the rate of state prisons since 1995,[i] and costs the taxpayers over $5 billion per year.[ii]  As of year end 2006, the Bureau of Prisons was 37 percent over capacity.[iii]  Yet nearly three-fourths of federal prisoners are serving time for a non-violent offense and have no history of violence.  Moreover, federal sentences are often long and excessive, particularly for non-violent offenses, and prisoners are required to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.  From 1992 to 2002, the average time served in prison for a drug offense increased by 31 percent, from 32.7 months to 42.9 months.  Curbing this exponential prison growth is critical. In comments to the U.S. Sentencing Commission in July 2008, Stephen R. Sady, Chief Deputy Federal Defender in Portland, Oregon, defined the point. "Over-incarceration of federal prisoners takes a huge societal toll: the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted; the human costs of individual freedom lost and families broken; and the redefinition of our society as one willing to incarcerate more than is necessary to accomplish legitimate goals of sentencing."

            To alleviate the unwarranted over-incarceration in the federal prison system, the President should support and Congress should pass legislation to expand the amount of and ways to earn good time credit. 

Proposed Solutions:

            Legislative ChangesPass the Literacy, Education, and Rehabilitation Act, H.R. 4283 from 110th Congress. 

Amend Section 3624 of Title 18, United States Code.

            Legislative Appropriations (Solutions w/ Funding Requests): Increasing the amount of good time awards can result in significant cost savings for the Bureau of Prisons.


            Legislative Branch:   House and Senate Judiciary Committees


            Legislative Branch:  Rep. Bobby Scott introduced H.R. 4283 - the Literacy, Education, and Rehabilitation Act (LERA), which provides credit toward service of sentence for satisfactory participation in a designated prison program. The director of the Bureau of Prisons may grant up to 60 credit days per year, in addition to the good conduct credit currently awarded, to a prisoner for successful participation in literacy, education, work training, treatment and other developmental programs. Rep. Scott has introduced LERA in the last two Congresses and the bill currently has three co-sponsors.  No hearings have been held on the legislation.

            Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) introduced the Federal Prison Work Incentive Act, H.R. 7089 in October 2008 regarding good time credits for federal prisoners.  That bill would restore the pre-Sentencing Reform Act good conduct credit system. 

Potential Allies, Potential Opposition, and Public Opinion:

            Potential Allies:  Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), the Constitution Project, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, The Sentencing Project, Federal Public and Community Defenders, International Community Corrections Association, Prison Legal News, International CURE, Virginia CURE, Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Danny Davis (D-IL), John Lewis (D-GA) and John Conyers (D-MI), and FedCURE

            Potential OppositionOpponents of expanded good time credits will charge that these policies are coddling prisoners, but the reality is that federal prisons are overcrowded, and prisoners lack incentives for good behavior.  Some opponents may include the Fraternal Order of Police and some law enforcement groups.

            Public Opinion:  In a poll conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Open Society Institute, entitled Changing Public Attitudes toward the Criminal Justice System, education and job training programs for prisoners were among the most popular policy proposals tested. Three-quarters of the public favored early release for prisoners who participated in rehabilitation programs and considered prisoners engaged in rehabilitative programming a low risk for further offenses.


For Further Information:

Read more about the good time legislation here: http://famm.org/ExploreSentencing/FederalSentencing/BillsinCongress/HR7089FederalPrisonWorkIncentiveAct.aspx.

Recommendations for Federal Criminal Sentencing in a Post-Booker World http://constitutionproject.org/sentencing/article.cfm?messageID=245&categoryId=7 

Principles for the Design and Reform Of Sentencing Systems: A Background Report, http://constitutionproject.org/sentencing/article.cfm?messageID=148&categoryId=7

Mandatory Justice:  The Death Penalty Revisited, http://constitutionproject.org/pdf/mandatoryjusticerevisited.pdf

[i] Sentencing Project, The Federal Prison Population: A Statistical Analysis, http://www.sentencingproject.org/Admin/Documents/publications/inc_federalprisonpop.pdf

[ii] Costs of Incarceration and Supervised Release ($24,922 per inmate in FY 2007), available at http://www.uscourts.gov/newsroom/2008/costs.cfm

[iii] U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, Prisoners in 2006 at 5, available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/p06.pdf

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 16:27
For more information, please read about us or contact Matthew Allee at the Constitution Project, 202-580-6922.