Federal Bureau of Prisons to Lose $338 Million Under Sequestration
Date:  02-28-2013

Reentry programs, inmates, and correctional officers will feel the sting
According to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, sequestration will hit the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the areas that house them hard. In a letter to the Committee on Appropriations chairwoman, Senator Barbara Mulkuski, Holder stated:

“The sequestration cut $338 million from BOP’s current budget. BOP would face a furlough of nearly 36,700 onboard staff for an average of 12 days, plus curtailment of future hiring, if sequestration occurs. This equates to about a 5 percent reduction in onboard staff levels and would endanger the safety of staff and over 218,000 inmates. As a consequence, BOP would need to implement full or partial lockdowns and significantly reduce inmate reentry and training programs. This would leave inmates idle, increasing the likelihood of inmate misconduct, violence, and other risks to correctional workers and inmates.

Limiting or eliminating inmate programs such as drug treatment and vocational education would, in fact, lead to higher costs to taxpayers and communities in the long run as the lack of such inmate re-entry training makes it less likely that released inmates will be successful at reintegration into society upon their release.

Further, BOP would slow the ongoing activations of new prisons that have completed construction during the last few years (FCI Berlin, NH, and FCI Aliceville, AL). BOP would not begin the FY 2013 planned activations of FCI Hazelton, WV, or USP Yazoo City, MS. BOP would still incur costs to secure and maintain these prisons, along with the prison in Thomson, IL. These five prisons represent over 8,100 beds that BOP would not be able to utilize fully at a time when our prisons are filled over rated capacity. In addition, the communities surrounding the prisons would not benefit from the significant economic activity that a prison engenders. We estimate that sequestration mean over 3,800 fewer jobs related to the prison activations that would be foregone (including an estimated 1,500 private sector jobs).

I am acutely concerned about staff and inmate safety should cuts of the sequestration’s magnitude hit BOP. To be blunt, sequestration means less money, not fewer inmates. We would still have the same number of inmates – over 218,000 – after sequestration as before. This kind of dangerous situation is exactly why sequestration needs to be avoided and sensible, balanced deficit reductions achieved. While I plan to take every available step within my authority to aid BOP should sequestration happen, these steps cannot mitigate the severity of every cut faced by BOP.”

A press release from the office of Senator Chuck Grassley (R – Iowa) relates that Grassley had some questions for Holder:

“Grassley questioned the Attorney General’s comments about the sequester delaying the bureau of prisons from opening four completed prisons that are not yet operational. Grassley noted that despite having four prisons completed and not operational, the department chose to spend $165 million from the Asset Forfeiture Fund, to buy another prison leaving five unactivated prisons. Specifically, Grassley asked if the $165 million would have been better spent to open at least one of four additional facilities currently unoccupied, thus ensuring less of an impact on the agency and the opening of any of the additional facilities.”

The sequestration threat has reentry programs, inmates and correctional staff worried. A cut in funding for reentry programs can see a rise in the recidivism rate, which means more correctional costs in the future. Inmates are worried what the impact will be on educational programs, visits, etc. Correctional officers are worried about their jobs, and reduced institutional security with less staff members.

Battle lines are forming among those who would be negatively impacted by the budget cuts, and it could get ugly. Madison, Wisconsin television station WMTV aired a segment on what the BOP budget cuts could mean for the state’s only federal prison in Oxford. The Oxford Federal Correctional Institution’s union president, Dave Dauman, made his views perfectly clear, telling reporter Britni McDonald, "We can cut back on education; we can cut back on recreations; we can cut back on visitations. Why are the staff paying the price? Why aren't the inmates suffering more?"

Families Against Mandatory Minimums(FAMM) has blogged their response to Holder’s letter.

Click here to read more.