Prison time doubles for federal inmates: report

by Lydia Wheeler
from The Hill

The average length of time served by federal prisoners more than doubled from 1988 to 2012, according to new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts released Wednesday.

The report titled “Prison Time Surges for Federal Inmates,” part of the organization’s public safety performance project, found that the average time served by federal inmates rose from 17.9 to 37.5 months. Increases were seen in six major categories of federal crimes – violent, property, drug, public order, weapon and immigration offenses.

Time served by drug offenders—who make up nearly half the federal prison population—rose more than 150 percent, from fewer than two years on average to nearly five.Pew found the federal prison population increased too, jumping 336 percent, from 49,928 inmates in 1988 to an all-time high of 217,815 in 2012.

And more people spending more time in prison means higher costs.

Pew reported in February that federal prison spending rose 595 percent from 1980 to 2013, from $970 million to more than $6.7 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Taxpayers spent almost as much on federal prisons in 2013 as they spent in 1980 on the entire U.S. Justice Department—including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and all U.S. attorneys.

The report comes as Congress is considering legislation to reform federal sentencing and the correctional system. The House Judiciary Committee moved a sentencing reform bill to the floor for a vote Wednesday and last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved its own bill to revise mandatory minimum sentences.

Pew said its report shows that policies including the elimination of parole, the establishment of strict sentencing guidelines, and the enactment of mandatory minimum penalties played a leading role in increasing the time served by federal inmates.


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