Prison Population Keeps on Growing

The Justice Department has publicly admitted that the $6.8 billion dollar annual prison budget and the 218,000 strong federal prison population is unsustainable and incompatible with a balanced crime policy. While paying lip service to the idea that reforms are needed, as usual the Justice Department completely ignores one of the most important issues by failing to call for sentencing changes.

Mandatory minimum sentences where the judge must hand down a minimum prison sentence regardless of his own interpretation of the facts of the case and sentiment on an appropriate sentence, are the chief reason that the federal prison population has increased by a near 300% growth over the past 20 years. Those convicted of drug crimes account for 75% of mandatory minimum sentences handed down. Often time these sentences are severe. With multi-decade sentences a reality for many, it is not entirely uncommon for the judge to apologize before reading out the sentence.

While there exists no convincing evidence that long mandatory sentences reduce crime rates, there is plenty of evidence that demonstrates that prisoners aged 45 years and up are the least dangerous and could be released with little risk to society. Despite this evidence, few politicians wish to support any bills that could be interpreted as being soft on crime.

Despite the fact that repealing mandatory minimums and granting early release to older inmates would be an obvious way to safely reduce the federal prison population, the Justice Department report fails to mention either of these factors. In doing so, they have again ignored the elephant in the room and done a huge disservice to those sitting behind bars now and the taxpayers that foot the bill of an ever-increasing prison population.

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