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Bureau of Prisons May Recommend More Good Time Credit

For years, there have been rumors that Congress might increase good time credit for federal inmates. None have come to pass.

There is no parole in the federal system. The amount of good time is the same for everyone -- 54 days a year after the first year.

Sentencing Law and Policy reports that one of the speakers at the Sentencing Commission's hearings last week was Bureau of Prisons Director Harley Lappin. After discussing how overcrowded our prisons are, and what can be done to alleviate it, he said that the Justice Department is working with Congress on two proposals. The first would increase the good time from 54 days a year to 61 days (not much of a change.) The second proposal is more promising: [More...]

The second proposal creates a new sentence reduction credit that inmates can earn for successful participation in recidivism-reducing programs, such as Federal Prison Industries, education, and occupational/vocational programming.

Mr. Lapin's statement is here.

He provides these statistics:

As the nation’s largest corrections system, the Bureau is responsible for the incarceration of about 210,000 inmates. Currently, the Bureau confines more than 171,000 inmates in 116 facilities with a total rated capacity of 126,971. The remainder, more than 18 percent, are housed in privately operated prisons, residential reentry centers, and local jails. In fiscal year 2009, a net growth of 7,091 new inmates was realized and an additional 1,468 inmates were added in fiscal year 2010. An increase of approximately 5,000-6,000 inmates per year is expected for fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2012.

Most of the inmates in Bureau facilities are serving sentences for drug trafficking offenses. The remainder of the population includes inmates convicted of weapons, immigration law, violent, fraud, property, sex, and other miscellaneous offenses. The average sentence length for inmates in Bureau custody is 10 years. Approximately 7 percent of inmates in the Bureau are women, and approximately 26 percent of the Federal prison population are non-U.S. citizens.

System-wide, the Bureau is operating at 35 percent over its rated capacity. Crowding is of special concern at higher security facilities with 50 percent crowding at high security facilities and 39 percent at medium security facilities. This severe crowding has resulted in double and triple bunking inmates. As of January 2011, 94 percent of high security inmates were double bunked, and 16 percent of medium security inmates and almost 82 percent of low security inmates were triple bunked or housed in space not originally designed for inmate housing.

45,000 federal inmates a year are released. Most need to acquire job skills, vocational training, education, counseling, and other assistance (such as drug abuse treatment, anger management, and parenting skills) before they return. BOP controls the programs made available to inmates.

40% of federal inmates arrive with a substance abuse problem. BOP now has 4 treatment programs. One, the RDAP program, is residential and allows inmates who complete it to receive up to a year off their sentence. But it hasn't been widely available. Now, Lappin says, 61 federal prisons and 1 contract prison have RDAP programs. Lappin says:

Inmates who participate in residential drug abuse programming are 16% less likely to recidivate and 15% less likely to relapse when compared with similar non-participating inmates. The President’s budget request for fiscal year 2012 includes funding to increase the residential drug abuse program significantly.

As to educational programs:

Institutions offer literacy classes, English as a Second Language, adult continuing education, parenting classes, recreation activities, wellness education, and library services. We also facilitate vocational training and occupationally-oriented higher education programs that are based on the needs of the specific institution’s inmate population, general labor market conditions, and institution labor force needs.

The result? Lappin says:

Inmates who participate in educational programs are 16% less likely to recidivate than similar non-participating inmates, and those who participate in vocational or occupational training are 33% less likely to recidivate than similar non-participating inmates.

All in all, Lappin's statement is encouraging. What would be better? 180 days a year good time. Other proposals through the years are here.

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  • The 61-day proposal would do nothing more (none / 0) (#1)
    by Peter G on Mon Mar 21, 2011 at 10:47:02 PM EST
    than correct the egregious error that the Supreme Court made last year in Barber v. Thomas, where the Court 6-3 majority accepted the convoluted argument advanced by the Dept of Justice on behalf of the Bureau of Prisons.  The statute's 54-days per year was interpreted to mean 54 days per year actually served (i.e., on a sort of "declining balance").  The credit is thus presently determined under a nearly unintelligible, calculus-like formula, which results in prisoners' getting no more than 47 real days off per year of the sentence imposed.  The so-called "increase" to 61 days would at least give a full 54 days per year of the sentence, and would save a little jail time (KDog's "cage time") for each of a lot of people, and thus a fair amount of money.  But real good time reform, with real savings in wasted prison costs, would mean creating opportunities to earn more like 25% or 30% off the ostensible maximum sentence, i.e., 90-100 days per year -- with no net loss in public safety, I'd venture to say.

    And I suppose (none / 0) (#2)
    by NYShooter on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 12:19:22 AM EST
    hat "no time" to be served for "crimes" that are really public health problems to be treated by public health experts is "off the table?"

    How would the administration's proposing a law (none / 0) (#6)
    by Peter G on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 05:17:56 PM EST
    to increase the rate of "good conduct time" imply that broader criminal justice reform was "off the table"?  (Which, by the way, I'm pretty sure has never been on any actual table.) Is every reform that might pass and thereby benefit actual victims of our present unjust system unworthy of consideration, because it is less than a complete, immediate correction of every injustice?

    Parent
    wow (none / 0) (#11)
    by NYShooter on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 12:15:50 AM EST
    "How would the administration's proposing a law to increase the rate of "good conduct time" imply that broader criminal justice reform was "off the table"?"

    It would not imply that, and I don't know why you would think my comment "implied" that.

     "(Which, by the way, I'm pretty sure has never been on any actual table.)"

    Correct, sad, but correct. And the reason for my cynical comment.

    "Is every reform that might pass and thereby benefit actual victims of our present unjust system unworthy of consideration, because it is less than a complete, immediate correction of every injustice?"

    Of course not. How in the world did you come up with that?

    Parent

    Glad to learn I drew the wrong inference (none / 0) (#12)
    by Peter G on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 09:51:42 AM EST
    from your comment, NYShooter.  I drew that inference because you posted your cynical (but accurate) remark as a comment to my description of the good-time proposal.  I therefore presumed that it was a comment on that comment.  Happy to hear that it wasn't.  I think we agree; no dispute intended or desired.

    Parent
    WHEW! (none / 0) (#13)
    by NYShooter on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 04:14:32 PM EST
    I'm coming back in off the ledge now.

    lol

    Parent

    Why do some liberals act like... (none / 0) (#3)
    by Yes2Truth on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 09:29:46 AM EST

    so-called enlightened conservatives, fooling around with token symptoms rather than treating the problems of too many laws (which only serve the special interests of our massive law enforcement and legal professions)?

    The solution to the high costs of putting people in prison is simple:  overturn the tons of laws which make consensual acts a crime.

    Is that so hard to grasp?

    see my comment #6 (none / 0) (#7)
    by Peter G on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 05:18:18 PM EST
    Like (none / 0) (#8)
    by jbindc on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 05:21:14 PM EST
    overturn the tons of laws which make consensual acts a crime.

    conspiracy?

    Parent

    Pretty sure that (none / 0) (#9)
    by Peter G on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 06:03:32 PM EST
    by "consensual acts" our friend Y2T means so-called "victimless crimes" or "vice" crimes.

    Parent
    I know (none / 0) (#14)
    by jbindc on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 04:41:46 PM EST
    But ya gotta be careful with what you say.  "Consensual" is a broad term!

    Parent
    Why not change the law for parole? (none / 0) (#10)
    by diogenes on Tue Mar 22, 2011 at 07:10:01 PM EST
    It makes more sense to leave a psychopath in prison for the full term, "good conduct" or not, and to parole other people sooner.