The federal prison population is up nearly 800 percent since 1980, while the cost of doing all that incarceration is up nearly $3 billion in the last ten years, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service, which recommends some policy solutions, including:
For example, Congress could consider options such as (1) modifying mandatory minimum penalties, (2) expanding the use of Residential Reentry Centers, (3) placing more offenders on probation, (4) reinstating parole for federal inmates, (5) expanding the amount of good time credit an inmate can earn, and (6) repealing federal criminal statutes for some offenses.
On the problem with some federal criminal statutes, the report goes on to explain the federalization of criminal law:
One of the highlighted reasons for the growth in the federal prison population was the “federalization” of offenses that were traditionally under the sole jurisdiction of state authorities. Policymakers could consider revising the U.S. Code so that federal law enforcement focuses on crimes where states do not have jurisdiction over the offenses or where the federal government is best suited to investigate and prosecute the offenders (e.g., the offense involves multiple individuals acting together to commit crimes across several states). Some crimes will always be federal offenses…. However, over the years the federal government has become more involved in investigating, prosecuting, and incarcerating people who commit drug offenses and offenses where a convicted felon is found to be in possession of a firearm. In many instances, states have criminal penalties for individuals who commit these types of crimes.
The president’s push for more federal gun controls combined with an aggressive prosecution of the war on drugs means the federal government appears to be going in the other direction, creating the conditions for an ever larger federal prison population (already the largest in the world).
A full three quarters of the federal prison population is incarcerated on drugs, immigration or weapons offenses, with only about 25 percent for violent, property or public order offenses.
The full report here (pdf) and read Jacob Sullum on 6,741 reasons not to expect criminal justice reform from President Obama.