Overcrowding in U.S. federal prisons is so severe, the problem could go on for years even if Congress takes steps to reduce the number of people behind bars, according to a report released Urban Institute.
Even if Congress were to cut mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes by half — an idea with dubious political prospects — federal prisons would still be 20 percent above capacity in 10 years, the report said, reported Reuters.
They would be 55 percent above capacity if policies went unchanged, it said.
“As much as there are many good policy ideas out there, it’s going to take several of them to even get to the point where prisons are not overcrowded,” said Nancy La Vigne, director of the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center.
The report also details the potential budget savings from a menu of changes under discussion in Congress.
If lawmakers were to apply retroactively new prison terms that they approved in 2010 for crack cocaine-related crimes, they would cut prison spending by $229 million over 10 years and free up 22,000 “bed-years.” One person released 12 months early frees up one bed-year.
The issue is a priority for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
“There’s been a tendency in the past to mete out sentences that frankly are excessive,” Holder said at a news conference on Monday. Given financial constraints, he said, “We have to really rethink our priorities.”
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