What Caused the Federal Prison Population Explosion?

November 1, 2017 marks the 30th anniversary that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines went into effect.  Since then, the federal prison population has grown over 400% while the U.S. population has grown only 37%.  It’s budget, now topping $7 billion annually–has grown over 500% adjusting for inflation, while spending per inmate has increased a mere 18%.  The federal prison population not only is larger than any single states’, but also remains at 20% over its rated capacity.  This presentation–the first in a series marking the 30th anniversary of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and U.S. Sentencing Commission–examines whether the structure of the Guidelines and mandatory minimum penalties are to blame.  Rather surprisingly, it seems they are not, at least not primarily.  Rather, the primary reason for the population explosion has to due with the Guidelines significantly reducing the likelihood of probation as a sanction.  Prior to the Guidelines, approximately half of all federal defendants received probation.  That has steadily declined where, as of 2016, a mere 7.3% receive straight probation.  To address the problem of over-crowding, therefore, probation must be more frequently imposed. A video presentation discussing a forthcoming article on this topic may be viewed here or below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__6XRdu09Kk

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