Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Federal prisons dangerously overcrowded

A recent Government Accountability Office report on the Bureau of Prisons says inmate overcrowding undermines the safety of the agency’s staff, as well as that of the inmates, reported Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson.  

“BOP officials reported increased use of double and triple bunking, waiting lists for education and drug treatment programs, limited meaningful work opportunities, and increased inmate-to-staff ratios,” the September report says. “These factors, taken together, contribute to increased inmate misconduct, which negatively affects the safety and security of inmates and staff.”  

The prison facilities are crowded because the inmate population is growing faster than the bureau’s capacity. As the prison population grew 9.5 percent from 2006 through 2011, the agency’s capacity, increasing at 7 percent, didn’t keep up. Even with new facilities, the prison population grew from 136 percent of capacity to 139 percent, according to the GAO. 

“Nearly all BOP facilities had fewer correctional staff on board than needed, with a BOP-wide staffing shortage in excess of 3,200,” the GAO said, citing a 2010 Justice Department study.   While crowding has increased, the inmate-to-staff ratio has gone down.

Fewer officers is not a strategy for success. The consequences can be real and bloody, wrote Davidson.  

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