The federal prison population has more than doubled since 1995, 72 percent of which are nonviolent offenders with no history of violence. The Justice Department for the Bureau of Prisons recently requested an increase of $606 million for fiscal year 2012, adding new facilities and roughly 4,672 new beds.
Granted, something has to be done to release the burden on the overcrowding within the federal prison system. Although the Obama administration has to immediately address this issue — hence the budget increase — it may be a good idea to consider reinstating the system that was once in place prior to the drug overdose of former NBA superstar Len Bias.
Almost three decades ago Bias, the former NBA player, died from a cocaine overdose, prompting Congress to replace federal parole with Mandatory Minimum Sentencing. This method does not allow judges to depart from sentences that have been categorized by law, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the offense.
Many judges have objected to the loss of discretion they once had prior to implementation of this new law.
According to statistics, this has caused the federal prison population to grow immensely, in particular in the area of nonviolent offenses. No longer is the federal prison system designed for the elite that commit offenses; a great deal of substance abusers and low level drug dealers wind up in the federal prison system for very, very long periods of time — in essence causing the federal prison system to bulge at the seams.
I served almost 20 years for a nonviolent offense when a five or 10 year prison term would have sufficed and got the job done. Punishment would have been met and I definitely would not have committed another crime. Had federal parole still been in place, maybe I would have been out of prison and on to becoming a productive member of society within a fraction of the almost twenty years I spent inside the system.
According to the Justice Department, it seems the increase in the federal prison budget will definitely address areas that are much needed, such as:
* Managing the ever increasing federal inmate population.
* Providing for the care and safety of the inmates.
* Maintaining appropriately safe and secure prisons required to ensure the safety of BOP staff, inmates, and surrounding communities.
Personally, I don’t feel the president is supportive of the “lock them up and throw away the key” method for all nonviolent offenders, because if he felt that way, he never would have signed The Fair Sentencing Act into law.
The proposed increase in the federal prison budget, in my opinion, is an attempt to address the problems within the prison system faced by staff and inmates alike, such as ensuring that inmates are receiving proper medical care. In addition, a lot of the prison staff is working double if not triple time … which can’t be good for any human being.
If nothing more is clear from all this, I think we can all agree that something has to be done about the continued growth in the federal prison population. In addition to the proposed budget request from the FBOP, I suggest bringing back federal parole, making it retroactive and having a parole board determine whether each nonviolent offender that comes up for their parole review is ready to reenter society.
We would definitely see a decrease in the overcrowded prison population, the costly spending to maintain and accommodate the ever growing federal prison population would decrease, and maybe they can become productive taxpayers and promote safer communities — in particular if they are given the needed support of jobs and shelter.
Maybe I’m just too optimistic…

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  1. I absolutely agree that parole should be reinstated. Our system is overloaded and the country cannot afford the system the way it is currently operating. Too many decent people who made a stupid mistake are incarcerated for way too long with no chance of early release other than the time off for good behavior.

  2. I found your article extremely informative. However, in addition to your proposal, the use of the Pre-Trial Diversion Program would have a positive impact on the growing prison population. Since the program was enacted by Congress for only non-violent first offenders, allowing a defendant to enter the program would not only reduce the prison population, but also provide a “true” second chance for those that qualify. This being said, U.S. Prosecutors are loath to allow defendants this opportunity. Apparently this has more to do with conviction rates than any inherent problem found in the governing statutes or with the program itself, which is why it will likely take Congressional action before we see substantial effort by the prosecutors to implement this grossly under-utilized program. My limited research indicates that pre-trial diversion is used in less than 5% of all prosecutions of non-violent first-offenders, and that it is offered to corporations much more frequently than it is to individuals, which seems absurd that a prosecutor would show more leniency and mercy to an artificial entity than to a living, breathing fellow human being.

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