GAO Examines How BOP Can Reduce Prisoners’ Time in Prison

GAO Examines How BOP Can Reduce Prisoners’ Time in Prison

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a study on the Bureau of Prisons’ authority to shorten a federal prisoner’s sentence. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was found to have three principal authorities with respect to sentence reduction:

  • Prisoners can earn up to twelve months off for successfully completing the Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program (RDAP)
  • Eligible prisoners can be transferred to community corrections for up to the final 12 months of their sentences, and
  • Prisoners can theoretically earn up to 54 days a year for good conduct while incarcerated.

Unfortunately, according to the GAO’s review of data from 2009 to 2011, due to budgetary constraints, mismanagement, or bureaucratic indifference, the BOP does not fully utilize all of the sentence-reduction resources at its disposal. As a result, federal prisoners spend more time away from their families and communities, which costs the taxpayers millions of dollars and contributes to prison overcrowding.

The GAO concluded by stating, “Federal inmate populations have been increasing and BOP is operating at more than a third over capacity. In addition, the absence of parole in the federal system and other federal statutes limit BOP’s authority to modify an inmate’s period of incarceration. Inmates, who earn their good conduct time, as most do, end up serving about 87 percent of their sentences. BOP’s housing of inmates in community-based facilities or home detention is the key flexibility it uses to affect a prisoner’s period of incarceration. However, BOP does not require its RRC contractors to separate the price of home detention services from the price of RRC beds. As a result, BOP lacks information on the price of home detention that could assist it in weighing the costs and benefits of alternative options for supervising inmates in home detention.”

Thus, the GAO recommended that the BOP “establish a plan, including time frames and milestones for completion, for requiring (RRC) contractors to submit separate prices for RRC beds and home detention services” – data which the BOP does not currently collect, which would assist federal prison officials in making future community corrections placement decisions.

Source: “Report to Congressional Requesters, Bureau of Prisons, Eligibility and Capacity Impact Use of Flexibilities to Reduce Inmates’ Time in Prison,” GAO-12-320 (Feb. 7, 2012).