No Obama Budget Freeze for Prisons

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 5:39 PM EST

In the nation with the world’s highest incarceration rate, amid talk of dangerously high deficits and budget freezes, the White House proposes dramatically increasing spending on prisons.

A newly released report from the Justice Policy Institute, titled "The Obama Administration’s 2011 Budget: More Policing, Prisons, and Punitive Policies," analyzes the priorities reflected in the president’s overall spending plans for the Department of Justice in FY 2011 (which begins on October 1, 2010):

The President’s proposed FY2011 Department of Justice (DOJ) budget asks for $29.2 billion. This is on top of $4 billion provided to DOJ through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), much of which will continue to fund activities through 2011 and beyond. Although the budget has some specific allocations for juvenile justice that it had removed last year, it still reduces spending on juvenile justice programs, while allocating hundreds of millions to hire or retain police officers….and increasing federal prison spending.

This continued funding pattern will likely result in increased costs to states for incarceration that will outweigh the increased revenue for law enforcement, with marginal public safety benefits. While "re-entry" programs…will help reduce recidivism, too little funding is targeted towards "no-entry" programs that keep people from ending up in the criminal justice system in the first place. As states struggle with tough economic times and burgeoning prison populations, research shows that the most cost-effective ways to increase public safety, reduce prison populations, and save money are to invest in community-based programs and policies that positively impact youth and more substance abuse treatment and mental health treatment services in the community.

In a recent article in USA Today, Kevin Johnson breaks down the proposed increase in direct spending for the federal Bureau of Prisons (which is on top of the funds passed on to states and localities).  As Johnson writes, "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….The boost would bring the total Bureau of Prisons budget to $6.8 billion….[The DOJ] 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."

Nearly half of the increased BOP funds–$237 million–would pay for "bed space" in solitary confinement cells at a new supermax prison in Thompson, Illinois. This is where the administration proposes to put the detainees  transferred from Guantanamo Bay when (and if) it closes.

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