2011 budget gives federal prisons $528M by Kevin Johnson USA Today

Posted: February 18, 2010 in News and politics
2011 budget gives federal prisons $528M


By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — As states cut their budgets by closing prisons and diverting some offenders to probation and treatment programs, the federal government is proposing to dramatically ramp up its detention operations.

The Obama administration’s $3.8 trillion 2011 budget proposal calls for a $527.5 million infusion for the federal Bureau of Prisons and judicial security — $227 million more than the proposed increase to Justice’s national security program. The boost would bring the total Bureau of Prisons budget to $6.8 billion.

Nearly half of the new funding is proposed to accommodate the administration’s plan to close the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and move some of the terror suspects to an Illinois prison. The Justice Department also projects that federal prisons, which now hold 213,000 offenders, will hold 7,000 more by 2011.


Also included in the Justice budget is a proposal to hire 652 additional prison guards and fill 1,200 vacant detention positions, far more than the combined 448 new agents planned for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and U.S. Marshals Service.

Assistant Attorney General Lee Lofthus says the increased prison system funding does not reflect a de-emphasis of national security, only that the Bureau of Prisons "needs the bed space."

The new budget proposes to fund the operation of two new prisons, including the $237 million purchase and renovation of a supermaximum-security facility in Thomson, Ill. The administration plans to use the prison to house detainees who would be transferred from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when it closes.

The federal spending plan contrasts with the criminal justice strategies pursued in many cash-strapped states, including California, Kansas and Kentucky, where officials have closed prisons or allowed for the early release of some non-violent offenders.

In Kansas, for example, state officials last year closed three prisons and reduced the number of probation violators sent to prison to reduce detention costs.

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to incarceration, says states have a "greater sense of urgency" to change policy because of their obligations to balance budgets.

"That sense of urgency isn’t there at the federal level," Mauer says. "Prison expansion slows the momentum for the reconsideration of some of those policies."

Bryan Lowry, president of the federal prison employees association, says the extra resources still fall short of the need.

The Bureau of Prisons would have to hire 2,426 additional workers to reach 95% of its staffing level in the mid-1990s, according to an analysis by the American Federation of Government Employees.

Lowry says overcrowding and staffing shortages have been persistent problems, endangering officers and staffers.

Last year, Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley acknowledged that assaults on staff had become "more severe."

"The additional money sounds good, but it’s still not enough," Lowry says. "This won’t solve the staffing problems that already exist."



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