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Transforming Prisons, Restoring Lives
Final Recommendations of the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections
January 2016

ABOUT THE CHARLES COLSON TASK FORCE ON FEDERAL CORRECTIONS
The Task Force was established by Congressional mandate in 2014 as a nine-person, bipartisan, blue ribbon panel charged with
developing practical, data-driven recommendations to enhance public safety by creating a more just and efficient federal
corrections system. Informed by over a year of fact-finding, rigorous data analysis, and discussions with key experts and
stakeholders, the independent Task Force’s recommendations to the US Congress, the President, and the Attorney General
provide a blueprint for reforms to the federal corrections system that are sensible, cost-effective strategies to reduce crime and
restore lives.

Copyright © January 2016. Urban Institute. Permission is granted for reproduction of this file, with attribution to the
Urban Institute. Photo credits: left, Getty Images/Marga Frontera; top center: AP Photo/Seth Perlman; top right: AP
Photo/Steve Miller; bottom center: Thinkstock Images/Getty Images; bottom right: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli.

Contents
Members of the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections

iv

Task Force Staff

v

Acknowledgments

vi

Letter from the Task Force Chairs

vii

Executive Summary

ix

Recommendations for Reform

xiv

Overview of the Task Force

xix

The Transformation of the Federal Corrections System

1

Who is in the BOP?

3

Federal Sentencing Reform in the 1980s

5

The Abolition of Parole and Increase in Time Served

8

The Policy Changes Driving BOP Growth

9

Federal prison growth driven largely by drug and weapon offenses

10

Mandatory minimum sentences drove long sentences for drug crimes

11

Many people convicted of drug crimes have minimal or no criminal histories

12

Mandatory minimum sentences also drove growth in long sentences for weapon offenses

13

With Growth, Comes Consequences

14

Rising costs

14

The toll on individuals, families, and communities

15

Overcrowding and poor conditions of confinement

15

Inadequate programming

17

A New Path

Recommendation 1: Reserve Prison for Those Convicted of the Most Serious
Federal Crimes

17

20

Background

20

Recommendations

22

Maintain drug mandatory minimum penalties for only the most serious offenses
and revise the Sentencing Guidelines accordingly

22

Allow judges to sentence below the mandatory minimum for certain weapon possession
offenses associated with nonviolent crimes

23

Review all other mandatory minimum penalties, establish a “sunset provision”
for any future mandatory minimums, and require prison, fiscal, and racial
impact statements for proposed legislation and Sentencing Guidelines

24

Encourage and incentivize alternatives to incarceration

25

Limit the types of cases prosecuted federally

27

Recommendation 2: Promote a Culture of Safety and Rehabilitation
in Federal Facilities

29

Background

29

Recommendations

30

Enhance safety and security within federal correctional facilities

30

Deliver adequate and appropriate in-prison programming and services based on
individual risk for recidivism and identified needs

32

Identify programming shortages and expand program offerings to meet
the assessed needs of the prison population

34

Ensure conditions of confinement are conducive to rehabilitation

36

Develop greater opportunities for family engagement

39

Recommendation 3: Incentivize Participation in Risk-Reduction Programming

42

Background

42

Recommendations

44

Improve public safety by incentivizing high- and medium-risk individuals
to participate in risk-reduction programming

44

Establish a Second Look provision to ensure judicious use of incarceration
and encourage rehabilitation

46

Recommendation 4: Ensure Successful Reintegration by Using Evidence-Based
Practices in Supervision and Support

50

Background

50

Recommendations

52

Conduct a comprehensive assessment of BOP procedures and practices
surrounding prerelease custody, particularly RRCs

52

Improve the transition of individuals transferring from BOP facilities
to community agencies to ensure a safe and seamless reintegration

54

Strengthen supervised release and expand use of early termination for successful individuals 55

Recommendation 5: Enhance System Performance and Accountability through Better
Coordination across Agencies and Increased Transparency

57

Background

57

Recommendations

58

Establish a joint Department of Justice/Judiciary working group on sentencing
and corrections to oversee implementation of recommended reforms

58

Expand and disseminate public information and knowledge
about federal corrections and supervision

59

Establish a BOP Office of Victim Services as a point of contact for victims
seeking information or support

II

62

CONTENTS

Expand the role and capacity of the USSC to include more diverse perspectives
and greater responsibility for cross-agency collaboration

62

Establish a permanent BOP Performance, Accountability, and Oversight Board

64

Review federal collateral consequence laws, regulations, and practices,
and develop specific recommendations to Congress

65

Recommendation 6: Reinvest Savings to Support the Expansion of Necessary
Programs, Supervision, and Treatment

66

Population and Cost Projections

67

Reinvestment Plan

68

Investment priorities

70

Most long-term savings should be reinvested in promoting public safety

71

Appendix A. Recommendations by Authority

72

Appendix B. Task Force Member Biographies

77

Appendix C. List of Invited Speakers, Roundtable Participants, and Other
Contributing Organizations and Stakeholders

79

Appendix D. Projected Impact of Selected Task Force Recommendations

85

Appendix E. Data Sources and Methods

86

Notes

90

References

95

CONTENTS

III

Members of the Charles Colson Task Force
on Federal Corrections
Chairs
J.C. Watts, Jr., Chair
Chairman, J.C. Watts Companies; Congressman (R-OK) (1995–2003)
Alan B. Mollohan, Vice Chair
Congressman (D-WV) (1983–2011)
Members
Craig DeRoche*
Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, Prison Fellowship; Member, Michigan House of
Representatives (R-38th District) (2002–2009, Speaker 2005–2006)
David C. Iglesias
Director, Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics and Economics at Wheaton College; US Attorney for the
District of New Mexico (2001–2007)
Jim Liske**
President and CEO, Prison Fellowship Ministries (2011–2015)
Jay Neal
Criminal Justice Liaison, Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council;
Representative, Georgia General Assembly (R-Lafayette) (2005–2013)
Laurie O. Robinson
Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason University; Assistant
Attorney General, US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs (1993–2000; 2009–2012)
Cynthia W. Roseberry
Project Manager, Clemency Project 2014; Executive Director, Federal Defenders of the Middle District
of Georgia (2009–2014)
Judge Ricardo M. Urbina
Arbitrator and Mediator, JAMS; Judge, US District Court for the District of Columbia (1994–2012)
John E. Wetzel
Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; Warden, Franklin County (PA) Jail (2002–2010)

* Began serving November 2015
** Served until November 2015

IV

MEMBERS OF THE CHARL ES COLSON TASK FORCE ON FEDERAL CORRECTIONS

Task Force Staff
The Urban Institute and its partner, the Center for Effective Public Policy, provided strategic guidance,
research, analysis, and logistical support to the Task Force.
Nancy La Vigne

Executive Director

Julie Samuels

Principal Investigator

Cybele Kotonias

Project Manager and Policy Analyst

Samuel Taxy

Data Manager and Policy Analyst

Becki Ney

Correctional Programs and Practices Analyst

Peggy Burke

Corrections Advisor and Roundtable Facilitator

Ryan King

Policy Advisor

Brian Elderbroom

Policy Advisor

Richard Stroker

Corrections Advisor

William Adams

Data Advisor

Abigail Flynn

Research Assistant

Lilly Yu

Research Assistant

Chelsea Thomson

Project Associate

Kate Villarreal

Communications Manager

Jenifer Warren

Staff Writer

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014, Pub. L. No. 113-76 (January 17, 2014) provided
funding for the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections. The work of the Task Force,
including this report, was supported through a competitive grant awarded to the Urban Institute by the
Bureau of Justice Assistance (Grant No. 2014-ZR-BX-K001). The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a
component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of
Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this
document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the
US Department of Justice.
The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute,
its subcontractors, its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine research findings or the
insights and recommendations of Urban experts. Further information on the Urban Institute’s funding
principles is available at www.urban.org/support.

TASK FORCE STAFF

V

Acknowledgments
The members of the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections are grateful for the assistance
and support of many contributors over the past year. First and foremost, we thank the US Congress and
Department of Justice for making this work possible. Congress created the Task Force and provided the
funding necessary to accomplish our mission. The Department of Justice, including staff at the Bureau
of Justice Assistance and the Criminal Division, executed the grant supporting our work.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons, including headquarters staff and countless other individuals in the
field, provided critical data and insights regarding current policies and practices in the federal
corrections system. The Task Force especially thanks the staff at the US Penitentiary, Atlanta for
facilitating our September visit. We also appreciate the assistance of the US Sentencing Commission,
which provided essential data about individuals sentenced in the federal system.
Over the past twelve months, a wide array of people and organizations committed time and
resources to discuss the challenges facing the federal corrections system with the Task Force and our
staff. This investment underscored the need for action, and their views and perspectives greatly
informed our deliberations.
The Task Force’s findings and recommendations build on decades of federal corrections reform and
research by government officials, policy makers, advocacy groups, and scholars. This extensive
groundwork provided the foundation for our efforts.
Lastly, we thank the staff of the Urban Institute and Center for Effective Public Policy for their
dedication to our mission. Their knowledge of the federal corrections system and the larger field of
criminal justice research and practice—along with their commitment to following the data—set the tone
for the evidence-based recommendations embodied in this report.

VI

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Letter from the Task Force Chairs
When Donald Taylor graduated from high school in 1984 his goals were crystal clear: enlist in the US
Army and make serving his country a lifelong career. The plan began well but ended badly when Taylor
was struck by a motorist near Fort Rucker, Alabama, and honorably discharged in 1990. Haunted by
injuries and the collapse of his dream, he returned home, fell in with the wrong crowd, and was
convicted of selling powder cocaine in 1994. Although his crime was nonviolent, Taylor was sent to
federal prison on a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years since he had a previous state-level
conviction for selling less than a gram of powder cocaine.
America is awash in Donald Taylors, people whose drug offenses or other nonviolent crimes drew
excessive penalties that have filled prisons, squandered human potential, and sent correctional costs
skyrocketing while producing only modest public safety benefits. Over the past year, the Charles Colson
Task Force on Federal Corrections has gathered testimony from such formerly incarcerated people,
corrections officials, prosecutors, defenders, and dozens of others as part of an extensive analysis of our
nation’s federal criminal justice system.
Established in 2014 by Congress in response to years of unsustainable prison population and cost
increases, high rates of recidivism, and inaction on possible reforms, the Task Force was directed to
conduct an independent assessment of the federal system to identify the dynamics driving increases in
the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ population and costs and produce recommendations for lasting reform.
In the wake of successful reforms of state corrections systems over the last decade, which have
demonstrated models to reduce costs and improve public safety, Congress sought a bipartisan review of
the federal system to inform the public debate on possible reforms.
Throughout our work, we were ever mindful of the man for whom our Task Force was named.
Chuck Colson, who served time in federal prison and upon release founded the world’s largest prison
ministry, was a vigorous advocate on behalf of the incarcerated at a time when criminal justice reform
had virtually no support on either side of the aisle. We salute his leadership and we are grateful for the
chance to move the cause forward with our efforts.
Those efforts, spanning more than a year of interviews, roundtable discussions, data analysis, and
other research, have been far more enlightening than any of our members imagined—and have revealed
both the causes of the bloated federal prison system and the results of decades of unbridled growth. We
learned that one of the key drivers of the population has been extremely long sentences for drug
offenses, including for those with no histories of violence. We also observed that the result of these
policy choices is a federal prison system that is in a state of crisis. Indeed, even with our years of
experience as elected officials with an interest in corrections policy, we were routinely startled by
testimony illuminating the breadth of the problems and their consequences for those serving time and
working within the Bureau of Prisons. From severe overcrowding to an insufficient array of effective
programs and incentives to encourage behavioral change, the system is failing those it incarcerates and
the taxpayers who fund it.

LETTER FROM THE TASK FORCE CHAIRS

VII

Yet while the scale of the challenge is greater than any of us anticipated, this Task Force is nothing
but optimistic about the future. Recently, former Bureau of Prisons Director Charles E. Samuels, Jr.
made great strides toward transforming his agency through a renewed emphasis on reentry preparation
and a strengthened partnership with its employees union. At the same time, a bipartisan appetite for
reform is readily apparent in actions taken by all three branches of government. With this promising
foundation, we are confident our recommendations, if carried out as detailed in this report, will enable
Congress, the President, and the Attorney General to reduce the federal prison population, increase
public safety, and cut costs.
It is important to note that our recommendations were adopted unanimously by a Task Force
featuring a bipartisan and exceptionally diverse membership, including a former prosecutor,
practitioner and academic experts, and representatives from the judiciary, the defense bar, and the faith
community. We were assisted by staff who not only brought extensive experience to the job but also
ensured our blueprint for change was anchored in data and the best available science about what works
to change the behavior of people involved in crime, reduce recidivism, and keep communities safe.
In closing, we are pleased to report that Donald Taylor was discharged from federal supervision in
late 2014, graduated from college with the help of Veterans Administration benefits, and now makes his
living as a counselor for troubled youth. But the lesson in his story is this: In our country, Donald Taylor
was the exception, overcoming a disproportionately long sentence and a scarcity of rehabilitative
offerings in prison to find his way to freedom, a college degree, and a job. It was our task to look at the
correctional system and make recommendations that such outcomes will be the rule. That, in the end,
will produce a safer society for all.
On behalf of the Colson Task Force, we respectfully submit this report to the Congress, the
President, the Attorney General, and the American people with a strong belief that the enclosed
findings and recommendations will help further our shared commitment to a reform of the federal
corrections system that restores lives and improves public safety.

J.C. Watts, Jr.

Alan B. Mollohan

Chair

Vice Chair

VIII

LETTER FROM THE TASK FORCE CHAIRS

Executive Summary
After decades of unbridled growth in its prison population, the United States faces a defining moment.
There is broad, bipartisan agreement that the costs of incarceration have far outweighed the benefits,
and that our country has largely failed to meet the goals of a well-functioning justice system: to enhance
public safety, to prevent future victimization, and to rehabilitate those who have engaged in criminal
acts. Indeed, a growing body of evidence suggests that our over-reliance on incarceration may in fact
undermine efforts to keep the public safe. Momentum is strong for a new direction, for a criminal justice
system guided by proven, cost-effective strategies that reduce crime and restore lives. But translating
this impulse for reform into lasting change is no small challenge.
This report provides both an urgent call to action and a roadmap for reforming the federal prison
system, which, with 197,000 people behind bars, was the largest in the nation as 2015 drew to a close.
By adopting the recommendations detailed here, and committing sufficient resources to ensure their
effectiveness, we can reduce the federal prison population by 60,000 people over the coming years and
achieve savings of over $5 billion, allowing for reinvestment in programs proven to reduce crime. Most
important, these proposed reforms and savings can be achieved through evidence-based policies that
protect public safety.
Such savings will not only bring fiscal responsibility to a policy area long plagued by the opposite
tendency, but will also free critical funds the US Department of Justice (DOJ) needs for other priorities,
such as national security, state and local law enforcement, and victim assistance. And just as critically,
these reforms will make our communities safer by ensuring we send the right people to prison and that
they return to society with the skills, supervision, and support they need to stay crime free.
While enacting these initiatives may seem daunting, doing nothing is not a sustainable option. The
United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, confining more than 2.2 million people in
its jails and prisons on any given day. Sentencing reform and other policy changes will reduce our
reliance on prison and cut costs as we reconsider which people truly need to be behind bars and for how
long. But the country still faces the enormous challenge of reintegrating millions of formerly imprisoned
people back into society, where the enduring stigma of a criminal record complicates their efforts to find
housing and jobs.
Fortunately, signs of meaningful progress shine brightly in the states. Lawmakers from Texas, Utah,
Georgia, South Carolina, and a host of other states have re-examined government’s expensive
preference for incarceration and have embraced a more diversified, evidence-based approach that
delivers better public safety at less cost.
Reform has come much more slowly at the federal level. Despite recent reductions, the federal
Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has experienced a seven-fold increase in its population since 1980. Costs have
spiked right along with that growth. Now almost $7.5 billion, federal prison spending has grown at more
than twice the rate of the rest of the DOJ budget and accounts for about one-quarter of the total.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

IX

Unfortunately, these expenditures have not yielded the public safety we seek. About 40 percent of
those who leave federal prison are re-arrested or have their supervision revoked within three years.
And inside federal prisons, serious problems persist, with overcrowding a particular challenge. Even
with recent reductions in the population, the system operates at 20 percent above rated capacity. Such
overcrowding presents serious challenges throughout the BOP’s facilities, jeopardizing the safety of
both correctional officers and those they oversee. Crowding also forces treatment staff into security
duties, limiting the availability of mental health care, substance abuse programs, and other
interventions proven to reduce recidivism. And crowding is most severe at the highest security
institutions, the very facilities that house those who have the greatest need for intensive programming
and present the gravest potential safety threat.
In response to mounting concern about the scale and cost of the federal prison system, Congress
established the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections (Task Force), named in honor of a
former federal prisoner and founder of the world’s largest prison ministry. The Task Force, which
includes lawmakers, criminal justice practitioners and other experts and stakeholders with experience
at both the state and federal level, has conducted a year-long fact-finding mission. These efforts have
helped us to identify the drivers of prison population growth, supporting the development of policy
recommendations designed to improve public safety, increase accountability of those in the criminal
justice system, and reduce recidivism.
Twelve months of interviews, data analysis, and other research revealed a clear picture of the
dynamics that caused the federal prison population to swell, and also laid a convincing foundation for
the Task Force proposals. We learned that the dramatic prison population expansion was caused largely
by drug and weapon offenses and by the mandatory minimum sentences that, beginning in the mid1980s, dictated long prison terms for both types of crimes. Other contributors were the abolition of
parole, federal limits on the use of “good conduct time” and other credits to shorten sentences, and
increased enforcement of immigration crimes.
More surprising than what we found to explain prison growth, however, was what we did not find.
Very few people convicted in federal court are sentenced to an alternative to prison. The vast majority
of federal sentences (90 percent) incorporate a term of incarceration, and most judicial districts do not
operate specialty courts or offer front-end diversion from prison. It is a one-size-fits-all model and it
contrasts starkly with the states, where policymakers are reducing both costs and crime through
heavier emphasis on evidence-guided correctional approaches tailored to the risk and need profiles of
each individual.
These and other findings informed a set of principles that guided Task Force deliberations. Inherent
in each of these principles is the overarching goal of enhancing public safety:
Sentencing decisions and correctional interventions should be individualized. The unique



circumstances and attributes of each case and each person entering the federal criminal justice
system should inform the sentence and the rehabilitation programs, treatment, and services
provided.

X

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY



Correctional policy should improve public safety. Federal corrections policies should be
designed to ensure that people involved in the federal criminal justice system are provided the
tools for successful release and reentry, which will improve safety in our nation’s communities.



Incarceration, with its attendant costs to both those in prison and taxpayers, should be
employed judiciously. When imprisonment is warranted, it should be used only long enough to
accomplish the goals of sentencing: incapacitation, deterrence, retribution, and rehabilitation.



Data and research should guide practice. Analyses to identify causes of growth should guide
the creation of reforms, and best practices documented by research should be implemented
throughout the corrections system.



Reforms should both address prison growth and improve public safety outcomes. Addressing
the growth of the federal system will lead to fewer people behind bars. The resulting population
reductions and attendant cost savings will in turn enable the BOP to better administer
programming and provide a safer environment for both its staff and the people incarcerated in
its facilities.

The recommendations found in this report reflect these principles and the Task Force’s
commitment to bipartisan, consensus-based decision-making. With this report, the Task Force intends
to provide Congress, along with the Executive and Judicial Branches, with tools to reform the federal
system, as well as a structure and mission that reflect contemporary criminal justice knowledge about
how to prevent reoffending and rebuild lives. The bulk of our work focused on producing a blueprint for
that shift, complete with comprehensive recommendations for reform to improve each phase of the
federal criminal justice system. For these recommendations to achieve optimal results they should be
carried out in a concerted manner. While savings will ultimately follow, up-front investment will be
required to expand evidence-based programs behind bars, strengthen community supervision and
improve federal halfway houses. Without sufficient initial resources to carry out reforms, the benefits—
lower costs, less crime, and a formerly incarcerated population better prepared to resume life as good
neighbors, good parents, and good taxpayers—will be uncertain at best.

Recommendation 1
At sentencing, the federal system should reserve prison beds for those convicted of the most serious federal
crimes.
Significant reform of the federal system cannot be achieved without addressing mandatory minimum
drug penalties—the primary driver of BOP overcrowding and unsustainable growth. This policy should
be revisited, with drug mandatory minimums reserved for only the most serious offenses and judges
empowered with greater discretion to consider the specific circumstances of each individual and case
when determining a sentence. Increasing the use of specialty courts, probation, and other prison
alternatives for individuals whose crimes make a community sanction appropriate is also recommended.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

XI

Recommendation 2
In prison, the federal Bureau of Prisons should promote a culture of safety and rehabilitation and ensure that
programming is allocated in accordance with individual risk and needs.
Federal prisons should be characterized by conditions of confinement that are safe, humane, and
conducive to self-betterment. Staffing levels should be sufficient to ensure a safe environment, and
housing, treatment, and program offerings should be tailored to the specific needs of the many diverse
populations in federal custody. Contact with relatives and other loved ones should be facilitated during
incarceration as an important component of a rehabilitative environment. In support of such
rehabilitation, a validated risk and needs assessment should be administered periodically to guide
development of individualized case plans and delivery of the targeted services and programs necessary
to support reintegration.

Recommendation 3
Throughout the prison term, correctional policies should incentivize participation in risk-reduction
programming.
Public safety and rehabilitation are best achieved through meaningful incentives for participation in
needed evidence-based programming. The most powerful incentive—earned time off one’s sentence—
should be used to encourage participation in addiction treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy,
educational classes, faith-based programs, and other self-betterment activities prescribed in
accordance with individualized case plans. And those who have served substantial time behind bars
should be subject to a review of their sentences and circumstances with the opportunity for sentence
reduction.

Recommendation 4
Prior to and following release, the federal correctional system should ensure successful reintegration by using
evidence-based practices in supervision and support.
Successful reintegration demands close coordination between correctional facilities and supervision
agencies. All relevant federal criminal justice agencies should be encouraged to share case-level data in
support of providing those leaving prison with the tools, services, supervision, and support necessary
for successful reintegration.

XII

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Recommendation 5
The federal criminal justice system should enhance performance and accountability through better
coordination across agencies and increased transparency.
To ensure success, federal agencies should operate collaboratively to carry out reforms in pursuit of the
twin goals of minimizing incarceration and reducing recidivism. Performance measures and ongoing
oversight are necessary to improve outcomes, hold agencies accountable for results, and enhance the
effectiveness of the entire criminal justice system.

Recommendation 6
Congress should reinvest savings to support the expansion of necessary programs, supervision,
and treatment.
Up-front investments are critical to achieve successful implementation and desired public safety
outcomes. The BOP requires an initial funding infusion to carry out the practices and programs
necessary to prepare individuals for release. Federal probation needs sufficient staffing and services to
shoulder the projected increase in its caseload. The courts and federal oversight entities require
resources to support new review, oversight, and coordination roles. And grant programs to courts and
prosecutors’ offices are necessary to incentivize problem-solving courts and front-end diversion
programs. These expenditures will be recovered in savings realized through a reduced prison
population.

Our report concludes with a strong call for action. The states have demonstrated that it is possible to
have both less crime and less incarceration. We applaud recent steps taken by Congress, the Judiciary
and the Administration to improve the federal corrections system, but the work has just begun. While
many elements of congressional reform packages are laudable, far more must be done to reserve prison
beds for those who endanger public safety, to individualize sentencing decisions and correctional
programs, and to encourage successful reintegration for those leaving custody. We must also support
in-prison and community programs with sufficient resources to achieve the recidivism reduction we
seek. Savings from reduced incarceration will come to support this investment, but not overnight.
Most important, we must capitalize on this rare moment in time. Political leaders on both sides of
the aisle agree that our current correctional approach has yielded poor dividends while squandering
human potential. The science of criminal justice has never been better, illuminating ways to wring the
best results from correctional work. Let us harness this momentum for change and enact wise, costeffective reforms that promote a safer society and make our criminal justice system work better.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

XIII

Recommendations for Reformi
Recommendation 1: Reserve prison for those convicted of the
most serious federal crimes
1.

2.

3.

Maintain drug mandatory minimum penalties for only the most serious offenses and revise the
Sentencing Guidelines accordingly
a.

Congress should repeal mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses, except for drug
kingpins as defined in the “continuing criminal enterprise” statute
i.
Apply both prospectively and retroactively, with a delayed retroactive application of 24
months
ii.
Apply Fair Sentencing Act retroactivity immediately

b.

The US Sentencing Commission (USSC) should revise the Sentencing Guidelines to better
account for factors that reflect role in and culpability for an offense, while considering
alternatives to incarceration for lower-level drug trafficking offenses

Allow judges to sentence below the mandatory minimum for certain weapon possession offenses
associated with nonviolent crimes
a.

Congress should create a new mechanism to enable judges to sentence below the mandatory
minimum weapon enhancement if the details of the case warrant such a departure
i.
Individuals sentenced for a mandatory minimum for gun possession (i.e., five-year
18 USC § 924(c) associated with a nonviolent offense) would be eligible
ii.
Judges would weigh individual characteristics and factors outlined in 18 USC § 3553(a)
iii.
Apply prospectively

b.

Congress and the USSC should monitor the impact of this proposed change and consider similar
departure mechanisms for other mandatory minimum penalties

Review all other mandatory minimum penalties, establish a “sunset provision” for any future
mandatory minimums, and require prison, fiscal, and racial impact statements for proposed
legislation and Sentencing Guidelines
a.
b.
c.

4.

Encourage and incentivize alternatives to incarceration
a.
b.
c.

i

The USSC should update its report on mandatory minimum penalties to identify those that
produce unwarranted disparities or disproportionately severe sentences, and recommend
needed changes
Congress should apply a sunset provision to any future mandatory minimum penalties,
requiring congressional reauthorization after no more than five years
The Administration and the Judiciary should prepare prison, fiscal, and racial impact
assessments for proposed legislative and Sentencing Guidelines changes to improve
information available to policymakers and the public
The USSC, as it revises its Guidelines for drug offenses, should encourage probation for lowerlevel drug trafficking offenses
The USSC should consider probation for other offense types and promulgate information
regarding the availability of and the evidence for alternatives to incarceration
Prosecutors and judges should employ alternatives to incarceration in their districts when
appropriate, including front-end diversion courts, problem-solving courts (such as drug courts),
and evidence-based probation (such as employment of swift and certain sanctions)

See appendix A for a list of the recommendations by authority.

XIV

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REFORM

d.

5.

Congress should encourage alternatives to incarceration by authorizing and funding front-end
diversion programs and problem-solving courts, evaluating alternatives, and sharing
information regarding best practices

Limit the types of cases prosecuted federally
a.

b.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and federal prosecutors should continue reviewing case
selection and charging practices to ensure that only the most serious cases that represent a
substantial federal interest or that require unique federal jurisdiction or expertise are
prosecuted federally
The DOJ should review data from all US Attorneys’ offices to determine how consistently
Smart on Crime directives and principles are being applied

Recommendation 2: Promote a culture of safety and
rehabilitation in federal facilities
1.

Enhance safety and security within federal correctional facilities
a.
b.
c.

2.

Deliver adequate and appropriate in-prison programming and services based on individual risk for
recidivism and identified need
a.
b.

3.

The BOP should implement an actuarial risk and needs assessment tool, ensuring that the tool
is used only to inform treatment, programming, and service-delivery decisions
The BOP should develop case plans and deliver programming based on individual risk to
reoffend, criminogenic needs, and other personal factors and characteristics that may influence
the rehabilitative process

Identify programming shortages and expand program offerings to meet the assessed needs of the
prison population
a.
b.
c.
d.

4.

The BOP should assess staffing levels across all facilities, identify staffing shortages, and
reallocate staff across facilities to support appropriate inmate-to-staff ratios as the population
declines
The BOP should review all housing assignments to ensure individuals are housed in accordance
with rated cell capacity
Congress should pass legislation clarifying the good conduct time calculation to enable
sentence reduction of up to 15 percent (consistent with the law’s original intent) to incentivize
positive behavior

The BOP should develop an aggregate criminogenic risk and needs profile of its population
The BOP should conduct a systemwide assessment to identify surpluses and shortages in
programming capacity at each facility
The BOP should allocate its resources to ensure that programming capacity matches the risk
and needs of the populations in each facility
The BOP should expand educational and occupational opportunities in response to
demonstrated need across facilities

Ensure conditions of confinement are conducive to rehabilitation
a.
b.
c.

The BOP should train all staff on effective communication, problem solving, and procedurally
just resolution practices as a core component of academy and in-service training
The BOP should use segregated housing as a punitive measure only in extraordinary
circumstances and for no longer than necessary
The BOP should ensure that housing and security procedures accommodate the specific needs
of its diverse population

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REFORM

XV

d.

5.

The BOP should develop appropriate and nonrestrictive housing options and security
procedures for individuals seeking or needing protective custody within the federal prison
system

Develop greater opportunities for family engagement
a.
b.
c.
d.

The BOP should house people as close to their home communities as possible
The BOP should establish a visitation and family affairs office to oversee and ease the burden of
facility-level visitation procedures
The BOP should expand video conferencing and other visitation programs
The BOP should enhance support for families of people in prison

Recommendation 3: Incentivize participation in risk-reduction
programming
1.

Improve public safety by incentivizing high- and medium-risk individuals to participate in riskreduction programming
a.

Congress should authorize that individuals not serving life sentences may earn up to 20 percent
off time served by complying with an individualized case plan
i.
Program requirements would vary by risk level and nature of case plan, with those at high
or medium risk required to complete rigorous programming
ii.
Requirements would apply prospectively (and would include people currently in prison)

b.

The BOP should allow all individuals, including those serving life sentences, to be eligible for
earned privileges other than earned time
i.

c.

2.

Earned privileges would apply prospectively (and would include people currently in
prison)

Congress should expand eligibility for the one-year Residential Drug Abuse Program credit to
include all individuals who can fulfill the program requirements (except individuals with life
sentences)

Establish a Second Look provision to ensure judicious use of incarceration and encourage
rehabilitation
a. Congress should establish a Second Look provision
i.
Anyone who has served more than 15 years may apply for resentencing
ii.
Process:
1.
2.
b.

Congress designates a judicial decisionmaker; at least one judge in each circuit is
assigned to hear petitions for review
Judge conducts full judicial review to assess whether the sentence should be modified,
based on current circumstances and the purposes of sentencing

The USSC should develop guidelines for judges responsible for conducting Second Look reviews
and modifying sentences

Recommendation 4: Ensure successful reintegration by using
evidence-based practices in supervision and support
1.

Conduct a comprehensive assessment of BOP procedures and practices surrounding prerelease
custody, particularly Residential Reentry Centers (RRCs)
a.

The BOP Performance, Accountability, and Oversight Board (see Recommendation 5) should
develop findings and offer recommendations regarding:

XVI

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REFORM

i.
ii.
iii.
2.

Improve the transition of individuals transferring from BOP facilities to community agencies to
ensure a safe and seamless reintegration
a.
b.

3.

Appropriate allocation of RRC beds to meet the needs of medium- and high-risk
individuals
Alternatives to RRC placement for low-risk individuals, including housing vouchers and
expanded use of federal location monitoring
Implementation of performance-based contracts for RRCs to emphasize programming,
treatment, and recidivism reduction

The BOP, US Probation, and RRCs should improve coordination by establishing a shared
information system, improving the transfer of case-level information, and expanding prison inreach
Information sharing should include assessment and evaluation information, details about
program participation and performance, proof of program and vocational completion, medical
and mental health status, and aftercare information

Strengthen supervised release and expand use of early termination for successful individuals

Recommendation 5: Enhance system performance and
accountability through better coordination across agencies and
increased transparency
1.

Establish a joint Department of Justice/Judiciary working group (Joint Working Group) on
sentencing and corrections to oversee implementation of recommended reforms
a.
b.

2.

The Joint Working Group should monitor implementation of recommended legislative and
policy changes
The Joint Working Group should submit an annual report to Congress on reform progress and
key performance metrics, in conjunction with the Performance, Accountability, and Oversight
Board and the USSC

Expand and disseminate public information and knowledge about federal corrections and
supervision
a.
b.

The Joint Working Group should review annual reporting of caseload data for the corrections
and supervision population and recommend modifications
The Joint Working Group should develop metrics and an ongoing review for performance
measurement
i.
Review existing agency performance measures, develop metrics to fill identified gaps, and
coordinate annual reporting to Congress
ii.
Ask the USSC to annually compile and release recidivism data, using multiple measures
and definitions developed in consultation with the Joint Working Group

3.

Establish a BOP Office of Victim Services as a point of contact for victims seeking information or
support

4.

Expand the role and capacity of the USSC to include more diverse perspectives and greater
responsibility for cross-agency collaboration
a.
b.
c.

The USSC should include representatives of victims, formerly incarcerated individuals, defense
attorneys, and experts in sentencing and corrections as full voting members
The USSC should continue to monitor and report on the impact of changes in sentencing
The USSC should revise its 2011 mandatory minimum report, including updated
recommendations

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REFORM

XVII

5.

Establish a permanent BOP Performance, Accountability, and Oversight Board (Board) to ensure
the BOP carries out the recommended reforms while maintaining high standards of correctional
practice
a.
b.
c.
d.
e.
f.

6.

The Board should work with the BOP to develop and promulgate performance metrics (at both
organizational and staff levels) that emphasize risk and needs assessment and risk reduction
activities, reentry preparation, and postrelease outcomes
The Board should monitor the development of the new risk and needs assessment and
implementation of the new earned time credits
The Board should review BOP data on internal performance, safety, and security metrics for
external consumption to support routine system assessment and identify needed
improvements
The Board should oversee development and implementation of a comprehensive 10-year plan
to restructure the federal prison system in light of significant reductions in the prison
population
The Board should review BOP oversight, accreditation, auditing, and compliance mechanisms
to ensure sufficient checks and balances are in place to support the BOP’s system
transformation
The Board should conduct special studies as needed, such as a review of prerelease custody
practices and procedures, focused on RRCs

Review federal collateral consequence laws, regulations, and practices that, without a public safety
basis, bar civic participation and access to programs, then make recommendations for repeal
a.
b.
c.
d.

The Joint Working Group should review federal collateral consequence laws
Congress should allow Pell grants for incarcerated persons
The President should eliminate executive branch criminal history disclosure on employment
applications (i.e., “ban the box”) for federal contractors, to parallel action already taken by the
President for federal employees
Congress should codify criminal history disclosure changes for federal employees and
contractors

Recommendation 6: Reinvest savings to support the expansion
of necessary programs, supervision, and treatment
1.

Congress should provide funds immediately for recommended reforms:
a.
b.
c.
d.
e.

2.

The BOP to implement a validated risk and needs assessment tool, to catalog current program
offerings and capacity, and to expand necessary programs and treatment
US Probation to increase staffing, programs, and services
US Courts to establish the Second Look function
The USSC to expand capacity and training
DOJ Office of Justice Programs to incentivize front-end diversion programs, problem-solving
courts, and other alternatives to incarceration, through grant programs to judicial districts and
prosecutors’ offices

The Joint Working Group, led by the DOJ and the federal Judiciary, should develop
recommendations for reinvesting savings from the reduced BOP population, including continuation
of funding for efforts specified above and support for other Task Force recommended reforms as
they come online

XVIII

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REFORM

Overview of the Task Force
Congress established the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections in January 2014 with a
mandate to examine challenges in the federal corrections system, develop practical, data-driven policy
responses to these challenges, and deliver recommendations to Congress, the President, and the
1

Attorney General. Congress named the Task Force for Chuck Colson, who devoted the second half of
his life to supporting and advocating for individuals affected by incarceration. For more information on
the life of Chuck Colson, see box 1.

BOX 1

The Life and Legacy of Charles “Chuck” Colson
The Task Force was named for Charles ‘‘Chuck’’ Colson who, because of his involvement in the
Watergate scandal, went from working as counsel to President Richard Nixon to serving time in a
federal prison. As a result of his prison experience and a spiritual transformation in 1973, Colson went
on to found the Prison Fellowship to support and minister to incarcerated individuals and their families
in the United States and around the world. He later started the Justice Fellowship as an advocacy
organization to champion the rights of the incarcerated and fight injustices within the criminal justice
system. Colson was honored with many awards during his lifetime, including a Presidential Citizens
Medal awarded by President George W. Bush in 2008. Colson passed away in 2012 at the age of 80. In
recognition of Colson’s critical work surrounding prison reform, Congress sought to honor his life and
legacy by naming the Task Force after him.
“Chuck made arguably one of the biggest impacts on prison reform following his own incarceration.
By channeling his impactful work we are bound to see positive change in our prison system.”
Frank Wolf, former Congressman (R-VA, 1981–2015); Chairman of the House Commerce-JusticeScience Appropriations Subcommittee (2001–2007, 2011–2015)

The Task Force is led by Chair J.C. Watts, Jr., former Congressman (R-OK), and Vice Chair Alan B.
Mollohan, former Congressman (D-WV). It includes prominent criminal justice practitioners and
experts with experience at both the state and federal levels. For the complete Task Force membership,
see box 2. Full biographies of Task Force members can be found in appendix B.

OVERVIEW OF THE TASK FORCE

XIX

BOX 2

Task Force Membership
J.C. Watts, Jr., Chair
Chairman, J.C. Watts Companies; Congressman (R-OK) (1995–2003)

Alan B. Mollohan, Vice Chair
Congressman (D-WV) (1983–2011)

Craig DeRoche (began serving November 2015)
Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, Prison Fellowship; Member, Michigan House of Representatives (R38th District) (2002–2009, Speaker 2005–2006)

David C. Iglesias
Director, Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics, and Economics at Wheaton College; US Attorney for the District of
New Mexico (2001–2007)

Jim Liske (served until November 2015)
President and CEO, Prison Fellowship Ministries (2011–2015)

Jay Neal
Criminal Justice Liaison, Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council; Representative, Georgia General Assembly
(R-Lafayette) (2005–2013)

Laurie O. Robinson
Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason University;
Assistant Attorney General, US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs (1993–2000; 2009–2012)

Cynthia W. Roseberry
Project Manager, Clemency Project 2014; Executive Director, Federal Defenders of the Middle District of Georgia
(2009–2014)

Judge Ricardo M. Urbina
Arbitrator and Mediator, JAMS; Judge, US District Court for the District of Columbia (1994–2012)

John E. Wetzel
Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; Warden, Franklin County (PA) Jail (2002–2010)

As directed by Congress, the Task Force analyzed relevant criminal justice data and identified
factors driving cost and population growth in the federal corrections system; examined the degree and
impact of overcrowding in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities; reviewed BOP policies on conditions of
confinement, program and treatment offerings, case management, and discharge planning; studied
“lessons learned” from the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) and other successful state reform
efforts (see box 3 for more information on JRI); identified current and promising cost-effective criminal
justice policies; developed practical, data-driven policy recommendations to address factors driving
growth of the federal corrections population; and identified best practices for the federal corrections
system to increase public safety, improve accountability of people convicted of federal crimes, and
reduce recidivism.

XX

OVERVIEW OF THE TASK FORCE

BOX 3

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) is a public-private partnership between the US Department of
Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Pew Charitable Trusts. JRI provides technical assistance to
states and local jurisdictions to apply the principles of the justice reinvestment model to their
corrections systems, seeking to cut costs while improving public safety. More than two dozen states
have participated in JRI.
The justice reinvestment model focuses on using criminal justice data to identify factors that drive
correctional spending and developing solutions supported by policymakers and stakeholders.
Jurisdictions reinvest a portion of savings achieved through reforms in programs designed to increase
public safety and reduce recidivism. A 2014 assessment of state progress under JRI found significant
savings in corrections spending through reduction of prison beds and averted system growth.
Sources: “Justice Reinvestment Initiative,” Bureau of Justice Assistance, accessed December 30, 2015,
https://www.bja.gov/programs/justicereinvestment/index.html; La Vigne et al. 2014.

To accomplish its mandate, the Task Force engaged in a year of fact finding, data analysis,
discussions with key experts and stakeholders, and deliberations to produce science-based and datadriven recommendations. As a central component of its work, the Task Force analyzed data provided by
the BOP and the US Sentencing Commission to identify factors driving federal prison population growth
and develop strategies to contain it. Through the course of its work, the Task Force released three
policy briefs focusing on the drivers and consequences of federal prison growth and the individuals
incarcerated in federal prisons, all of which were published on the Task Force website
2

(www.colsontaskforce.org). The Task Force also worked with the Urban Institute to develop the
Federal Prison Population Forecaster.

3

These analyses informed Task Force deliberations over the course of five two-day meetings
between January and December 2015, during which the Task Force engaged in discussions and
activities to examine challenges in the federal corrections system. At a series of public hearings, Task
Force members heard testimony from more than three dozen invited speakers and members of the
public, including key federal justice system officials, victims’ advocates, federal criminal justice practitioners overseeing innovative programs, members of the defense bar, current and former corrections
staff, formerly incarcerated individuals, and representatives of numerous advocacy groups. (A full list of
public hearing speakers can be found in appendix C.) Task Force members also visited a US penitentiary
and federal prison camp to meet with BOP employees and individuals incarcerated in those facilities.
Further discussions were held with key stakeholders through roundtables involving more than 100
participants. Each roundtable featured an in-depth conversation between Task Force members and
participants about challenges in the federal justice system and their recommendations for reform. The
roundtables featured perspectives from the following stakeholders: people currently in prison, the
defense bar, formerly incarcerated people and their relatives, judges, law enforcement representatives,

OVERVIEW OF THE TASK FORCE

XXI

probation and pretrial officers, prosecutors, residential reentry center operators, and victims’
advocates. (A full list of roundtable participants can also be found in appendix C.)
In addition to formal roundtables, the Task Force held meetings with government officials and other
experts and received public input through written testimony, e-mail correspondence, and telephone
conversations. The Task Force also reviewed the BOP’s classification and risk and needs assessments,
program and treatment planning, and transition and reentry procedures. Earlier studies of the federal
corrections system were reviewed as well.
The above-referenced activities informed the Task Force’s discussions and decision-making,
yielding the recommendations that follow.

XXII

OVERVIEW OF THE TASK FORCE

The Transformation of the Federal Corrections
System
Decades of unrelenting growth within the federal prison system have created an urgent need for action,
in the interests of both public safety and fiscally responsible governance. Since 1980, the federal prison
ii

population grew eight-fold, peaking at almost 220,000 in 2013. This upward trend has only recently
4

begun to reverse, with the December 2015 population at 197,000 people. The growth was caused by a
profound transformation in federal criminal justice law and policy, which required the BOP to house
ever-larger numbers of people for longer periods of time. The passage of stiff sentencing laws and tough
prosecution charging policies, combined with the abolition of parole, led to substantially longer prison
stays, driving the population up. Meanwhile, the volume of federal drug prosecutions expanded steadily.
More recently, immigration cases have proliferated as well. Before these shifts, the federal prison
population had stayed virtually flat for four decades, between 1940 and 1980, in contrast to its
expansion by more than 170,000 between 1980 and today.

5

This unprecedented growth has far outpaced the rise in state prison populations (see figure 1),
making the BOP the largest prison system in the country. Federal prison costs have spiked as well,
growing at almost twice the rate of the rest of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) budget and
threatening to undermine other funding priorities.
Despite the increase in spending and recent population reductions, the BOP continues to struggle
under the weight of overcrowding and its harmful impacts. Staffing is insufficient to maintain a safe and
secure environment, resulting in dangerous conditions for corrections officers and the men and women
they oversee. Overcrowding also compromises the BOP’s ability to provide adequate programming,
treatment, and case management. As noted in a recent DOJ Inspector General report, “Though the
number of federal inmates has declined for a second year in a row, the Department of Justice continues
6

to face a crisis in the federal prison system.” While this crisis is largely not of its own making, the Task
Force found that the BOP has in some instances failed to adopt state-of-the-art correctional practices in
areas such as risk assessment that could help ameliorate it.

ii

Unless otherwise noted, the source of all data presented in this report is Task Force staff analysis of data provided
by the BOP and the US Sentencing Commission, FY 1994–FY 2014, and the analyses pertain only to those who
have been federally sentenced. The offense information presented is the most serious as determined by the BOP.
Though most of those in the BOP are convicted of a federal crime, in 1997 the BOP assumed responsibility for the
confinement of individuals convicted of District of Columbia (DC) code felonies. In FY 2014 there were 5,000
people sentenced for DC code felonies in federal prison, including people returned to prison following a revocation
of probation or parole.

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

1

FIGURE 1

The BOP incarceration rate has grown faster than the states
800

State

Federal (multiplied by 10)

700
600
500
400
300
200
100
0
1983

1986

1989

1992

1995

1998

2001

2004

2007

2010

2013

Source: “Corrections Statistical Analysis Tool (CSAT) - Prisoners,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, accessed December 30, 2015,
http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=nps.

The BOP’s rapid population growth, while creating hazardous conditions in its facilities, has
produced only modest public safety benefits—at best. Many scholars have attempted to measure the
nuanced relationship between incarceration and crime; the most credible research estimates that about
one-quarter of the violent crime drop of the 1990s was attributable to increased imprisonment.

7

However, research shows that each additional person sent to prison does not result in an equal public
8

safety benefit. As more people are incarcerated for a wider variety of offenses, the public safety payoff
diminishes significantly. In addition, for those admitted to prison, there is growing consensus that longer
9

sentences do not result in lower rates of recidivism. Moreover, a 2015 systematic review found that
10

prison is often no better than community-based sanctions in reducing re-offending. In fact, many
states have shown that it is possible to reduce the use of incarceration while also reducing crime rates.
Thus, legitimate concerns exist about the public safety return from a federal prison system deeply
invested in long sentences.

2

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

11

Who is in the BOP?
FIGURE 2

Characteristics of the Bureau of Prisons standing population
iii
At the end of FY 2014, there were 213,849 people in federal prison (standing population).
Characteristic
Commitment Type
Federally sentenced (new crime or supervision violation)
DC code felony
Pretrial detention or other commitment type
Security Level
Minimum
Low
Medium
High
Facility Type
BOP
a
Private
Pre-release custody
b
Age
c
Under 18
18 to 24
25 to 34
35 to 44
45 to 54
55 to 64
65 and older
Sentence Length
1 year and less
1.1 to 5 years
5.1 to 10 years
10.1 to 20 years
20 or more years
Race and Ethnicity
Hispanic/Latino
Black/African American
White/Caucasian
Native American
Asian American
Citizenship
US citizen
Noncitizen
d
Gender
Male
Female

Share of standing population
92%
2%
6%
18%
41%
30%
11%
80%
14%
6%
0%
5%
30%
35%
20%
8%
3%
4%
29%
29%
26%
12%
35%
35%
27%
2%
1%
76%
24%
93%
7%

Source: Task Force staff analysis of BOP FY 2014 data.
a. Almost all people held are non-US citizens in low-security facilities.
b. Percentages may not total 100 because of rounding.
c. There are 13 individuals under 18, making up 0.01 percent of BOP population.
d. The BOP reported 109 people in their custody identified as transgender in 2015. However, this number does not include people
who did not request services.

iii

Except for commitment type, all other analyses reflect only the federally sentenced population.

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

3

FIGURE 3

Comparison of admissions and standing populations by offense type
There were 75,030 people admitted to federal prison in FY 2014 (admissions population). The
composition of the admissions population differs from that of the standing population because the
standing population has a greater share of people with longer lengths of stay.
Common offenses
Drugs
Weapons
Immigration

Admissions
29%
9%
28%

Standing
49%
15%
10%

Drug offenses are the most frequent admission type, accounting for close to half of the BOP
standing population.
100%
90%
80%

Supervision

70%

Violent

60%

Public order

50%

Property
Sex

40%

Immigration

30%

Weapon

20%

Drug

10%
0%
Admissions

Standing

Source: Task Force staff analysis of BOP FY 2014 data.

4

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

Federal Sentencing Reform in the 1980s
The growth of the federal prison system is the result of significant changes in federal criminal justice
policy and practice in the 1980s. The centerpiece of today’s sentencing regime is the Sentencing Reform
Act of 1984 (SRA), bipartisan legislation designed to eliminate indeterminate sentencing, structure
judicial sentencing discretion through the creation of sentencing guidelines, reduce sentencing
12

disparity, and increase uniformity and proportionality. Key features of the SRA, which established the
iv

US Sentencing Commission and required the development of Sentencing Guidelines, are summarized
in box 4. Legislation establishing mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses soon followed,
beginning with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act (ADAA) in 1986. The law and subsequent amendments
prescribed long prison terms for many drug crimes based solely on the type and quantity of the drug.

13

BOX 4

Sentencing Reform Act: Key Features
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Defined purposes of sentencing: just punishment (sometimes called retribution), deterrence,
incapacitation, and rehabilitation
Established the US Sentencing Commission to develop mandatory guidelines for all felonies and
Class A misdemeanors (made advisory by United States v. Booker in 2005)
Abolished parole and imposed truth-in-sentencing rules, requiring individuals to serve 85
percent of their prison terms
Created a separate term of post-prison supervised release distinct from a prison term
Provided appellate review of sentences

Sources: US Sentencing Commission 2011a; United States v. Booker 543 US 220 (2005).

Judges are responsible for imposing sentences in light of the federal Sentencing Guidelines, along
with statutory penalties and case law. (See box 5 for additional information about probation, financial
penalties, and supervised release.) The Guidelines take into account the seriousness of the offense and
the criminal history of the individual, as well as specific offense characteristics and adjustments based
on other factors such as the type of victim, an individual’s role in the offense, and whether there was
obstruction of justice. Taken together, these factors provide judges with an advisory range of possible
sentences (the Guideline range).

iv

While the Guidelines were originally created as mandatory, the 2005 United States v. Booker Supreme Court
decision rendered them advisory.

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

5

BOX 5

Federal Probation, Financial Penalties, and Supervised Release
Most statutes do not require a term of imprisonment, and instead allow either a term of probation or
incarceration. Two exceptions are statutes that include a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment or
statutes that explicitly forbid a term of probation but do not indicate a required length of imprisonment.
Probation is authorized for up to five years, and must be at least one year for a felony. Federal laws may
also include financial penalties, including fines, restitution, and special assessments.
When a term of imprisonment is imposed at sentencing, there is generally also a term of supervised
release. The primary intent of supervised release in the federal system is to facilitate reintegration.
Source: US Sentencing Commission 2015c.

The US Sentencing Commission chose to incorporate the mandatory penalties for drug crimes into
its Guidelines to ensure consistency and avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities. Because mandatory
minimum sentences for drugs are tied to drug quantity, the advisory Guideline range for a drug
sentence is also based on quantity, and is proportional to the mandatory minimums.
The Guidelines include opportunities for departures when a sentence above or below the advisory
range is warranted. But judges have only two options for reducing sentences for those convicted of a
drug offense carrying a mandatory minimum:
1.

v

when the defendant provides substantial assistance to prosecutors who are investigating
14

related crimes or
2.

when the defendant meets the five judicial “safety valve” criteria: (1) no more than one criminal
history point; (2) no violence or weapon; (3) no death or serious bodily injury; (4) no leadership
role adjustment; and (5) full and truthful disclosure.

15

Those convicted of other mandatory minimum penalties are eligible for a reduction based on
substantial assistance but the safety valve is only available to individuals convicted of drug crimes.
Perhaps not surprisingly, since the passage of SRA and ADAA in the 1980s, the probability of
receiving a term of incarceration, rather than probation, has risen, as have the number of cases
prosecuted federally. These changes have fundamentally transformed federal prosecution and the
resulting sentencing outcomes. Between 1985 and 2014,
16



convictions in US courts nearly doubled from 40,924 to 76,835, and



the probability of receiving a term of incarceration at sentencing increased dramatically from
50 percent to 90 percent.

17

v

This creates a situation in which those who hold the most information, arguably people in leadership roles in
criminal organizations, have the greatest ability to reduce their sentences while those who play lesser roles may
remain subject to mandatory minimums.

6

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

The federal criminal justice system continues to be guided by Congress, which determines which
offenses constitute federal crimes and chooses the type of sentence available for each offense. While
18

19

there are more than 4,000 criminal statutes, most are rarely used. Federal jurisdiction is very broad,
and much of it is held concurrently with states. For example, most drug and violent crimes could be
prosecuted either by the federal government or the states. Where there is concurrent jurisdiction with
the states, federal prosecutors are encouraged to pursue only cases that represent a substantial federal
interest (such as interstate or international crimes) or that require federal investigative expertise. Areas
of exclusive federal jurisdiction include immigration, espionage, counterfeiting, fraud against the
government, and crimes committed in federal enclaves.
The reforms and unique characteristics of the federal system make for a prison population
markedly different from the mix of people incarcerated by states, as depicted in figure 4. Sixteen
percent of people in state prison have been convicted of a drug crime, for example, but that figure is 50
percent in the federal system. And almost all people in federal prison for drug crimes are convicted of
drug trafficking as opposed to possession. Violent offenses account for about half of the offense profile
in state prisons, but only seven percent in the BOP. Immigration offenses are not prosecuted by the
states, but more than one in four people admitted to federal prison and about one in ten individuals
housed in a federal facility have been convicted for immigration offenses. And most people in federal
prison for property crimes are convicted of fraud, generally associated with losses in the hundreds of
thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Public order crimes in the federal system include white collar
regulatory offenses and racketeering, while those in the states consist of court offenses, driving under
the influence, and liquor law violations, among others.

20

FIGURE 4

Drug offenses dominate the federal system, whereas violent offenses dominate state systems
Percent

State

Federal

60
50
40
30
20
10
0
Violent

Property

Drug

Weapon

Immigration

Public order

Other

Source: Carson 2015, as modified by Task Force staff.
Note: Timeframe and offense categorization in Carson differ from Task Force staff analysis.

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

7

In addition, supervision violators make up about three percent of the federal prison population, a
much smaller proportion than in state systems. Moreover, most people in federal prison for sex crimes
were convicted of possessing, trading, selling, or producing child pornography versus sexual assault, which
is more common in state corrections systems. Significant shares of those convicted of federal sex crimes
are subject to extremely lengthy sentences with few opportunities for reductions post-conviction.

The Abolition of Parole and Increase in Time Served
In keeping with its goal of increasing certainty and transparency in sentencing (sometimes called truth
in sentencing), the SRA abolished parole, established a specified term of post-prison supervised release,
and reduced good conduct time to a maximum of 15 percent of an individual’s sentence. As a result, in
the federal system today, the sentence imposed largely determines the length of time served. Combined
with mandatory minimum sentences, this means that not only are more people receiving long sentences,
but they are also required to serve a substantially larger proportion of those sentences. Between 1985
and 2014, the average time served for individuals released from federal prison increased slightly from
21

35 months to 39 months. But this average, which is heavily influenced by the substantial increase in
the number of people receiving short sentences for immigration offenses, masks significant increases in
time served for other offense types. In particular, time served for drug offenses increased from 27
months to 58 months. Time served for weapon offenses increased from 24 months to 60 months.

22

Moreover, there are limited opportunities for people to have their sentences reduced after they
vi

begin their federal prison terms. Prosecutors can request reduced sentences for those who provide
23

substantial assistance to investigators and prosecutors after sentencing, and individuals can petition
24

to have their sentences commuted (or reduced) by the President through executive clemency. But the
BOP itself has limited options for modifying time served.
One avenue is through the good conduct credit. Those with sentences of more than a year are
eligible to earn up to 54 days of good conduct time annually, or a sentence reduction of up to 15
25

percent. Because of the way the good conduct time is calculated, however, people in federal prisons
can earn a maximum of only 13 percent instead of 15 percent.

vii

Only one program, Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), enables participants to earn time off
their prison term. Based on cognitive behavioral therapy, RDAP is the BOP’s most intensive substance
abuse treatment program and involves three treatment phases: residential treatment (intensive halfvi

The United States also has prisoner transfer agreements with 77 nations and territories that enable eligible
individuals to serve the remainder of their prison terms in their countries of origin. While foreign nationals make up
about one-quarter of the BOP population, very few individuals are transferred under the International Prisoner
Transfer Program. See Office of the Inspector General 2011, 2015a.
vii

To calculate a full 15 percent, after an individual serves 311 days, the remainder of the year (54 days) is credited
to their sentence, thus adding up to 365 days. The BOP, however, calculates the 54 days as only accruing after an
individual has served 365 days, meaning that the cycle occurs in 419-day intervals. As a result, the BOP calculates
good time such that individuals can only earn up to 47 days (or about 13 percent) off their sentences each year.

8

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

day programming, five days a week, for nine to twelve months), nonresidential follow-up treatment, and
community-based treatment services. Those eligible for RDAP who complete the full program can earn
26

up to one year off their sentences. However, those who have a demonstrated history of substance
abuse but have committed a violent offense or have a history of violence are ineligible for a sentence
reduction, although they may participate in the program.
Another mechanism for sentence reduction within the BOP’s purview is to file a motion asking a
judge to reduce a person’s prison term through compassionate release if “extraordinary and compelling
reasons” exist. Until recently, that was taken to mean only advanced, terminal illnesses. Criticism of the
small number of people granted compassionate release prompted the BOP to expand its eligibility
criteria to include more people who are older, who are ill, and who have served a set period of time.
Nonmedical criteria, such as having a child who lost his or her primary caretaker, are also available but
are rarely, if ever, used. Indeed, the number of compassionate release cases remains small, with about
100 benefiting from the program in FY 2015.

27

The Policy Changes Driving BOP Growth
Two simple factors have driven growth in the federal prison population: more people have been sent to
28

federal prison and for longer periods of time. The BOP does not control either factor. Policy and
statutory changes in the 1980s directly influenced these dynamics, and today’s federal prison
population looks very different than it did decades ago, as shown in figure 5. The Task Force analysis
yielded four key findings:


Federal prison growth was driven largely by drug and weapon offenses;



Mandatory minimums drove long sentences for drug crimes;



Many people convicted of drug crimes have minimal or no criminal histories; and



Mandatory minimums also drove growth in long sentences for weapon offenses.

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

9

FIGURE 5

The size and composition of the federal prison population has changed markedly
100,000

1994

90,000

2014

80,000
70,000
60,000
50,000
40,000
30,000
20,000
10,000
0

Source: Task Force staff analysis of BOP FY 1994 and 2014 data.

Federal prison growth driven largely by drug and weapon offenses
The number of people in federal prison for drug offenses dwarfs that for any other offense type. The
growth in weapon and drug offenses together makes up over 60 percent of all growth in the federal
prison system for the past two decades. The number of people in prison for sex crimes and immigration
offenses has also grown sharply since 1994, but drug and weapon offenses have had a greater impact on
the overall BOP population.

viii

As shown in figure 6, the number of people entering federal prison for drug offenses has been
relatively constant since the late 1990s, but the number of people in federal prison for these crimes
continued to grow, largely because of the long sentences and resulting prison time served for such
crimes. Every year, more than 20,000 people are admitted to federal prison for drug crimes, making it
the most common type of admission. Many of those convicted receive sentences in excess of five or ten
years. Because of these sentences, the population has continued to grow even as admissions have
stayed constant.

viii

Over the past two years, the number of criminal convictions for immigration offenses dropped 20 percent; with
it, the number of people in federal prison for immigration offenses dropped considerably. See “Criminal
Immigration Convictions Drop 20 Percent,” Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, June 12, 2015,
http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/392/.

10

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

FIGURE 6

The number of people in prison for drug offenses has grown despite flat admissions
120,000

Standing

Admissions

100,000
80,000
60,000
40,000
20,000
0
1994

1996

1998

2000

2002

2004

2006

2008

2010

2012

2014

Source: Task Force staff analysis of BOP FY 1994–2014 data.

Mandatory minimum sentences drove long sentences for drug crimes
As described previously, mandatory minimum penalties play a large role in determining the ultimate
sentence for a drug trafficking offense. Almost all are based solely on the quantity of the drug and do
not take into account the role individuals play within drug trafficking organizations or the use of
ix

violence in the commission of a crime. For example, a courier driving a truck with drugs in it may be
subject to the same mandatory minimum penalty as the person who employs him or her—based solely
on the quantity of the drug involved. The average expected time served for the 55,000 people in prison
sentenced pursuant to a mandatory minimum for drug offenses (59 percent of those in federal prison
for drugs) is more than 11 years. The effects of mandatory minimum penalties, however, can extend
even further to those not convicted of an offense carrying such penalties (22 percent). This is largely
because the US Sentencing Commission structured its Guidelines for drug trafficking around the
mandatory minimum penalties. As a result and shown in figure 7, the average expected time served for
those not convicted of a mandatory minimum penalty is still more than six years. The same is true for
the remaining 19 percent of those convicted of drug crimes who were relieved from the mandatory
sentence; they have an average expected time served of 6 years.
ix

Some mandatory penalties can be enhanced if death or serious bodily injury resulted, if the individual was
previously convicted of a drug felony, or if the case is prosecuted under 21 USC § 848, the Continuing Criminal
Enterprise statute.

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

11

FIGURE 7

Time served for drug offenses is long, regardless of mandatory minimum application
Years

Time served

Time remaining

14
12
10
8
6
4
2
0
No mandatory minimum conviction

Mandatory minimum not applied

Mandatory minimum applied

Source: Task Force staff analysis of BOP and USSC FY 1994–2014 data.

Many people convicted of drug crimes have minimal or no criminal histories
Almost half (45 percent) of the 95,305 people serving time for drug crimes in federal prison are in the
lowest two criminal history categories, meaning they have few, if any, prior convictions. They also have a
29

low risk of recidivism. In fact, more than one-quarter of all people in prison for drug offenses have no
prior criminal history. And almost 80 percent of all individuals in federal prison for drug crimes had no
serious history of violence before their current offense. Specifically, more than half have no violent
history at all, and 22 percent have only minor histories of violence, such as simple assault and other
crimes that do not typically lead to serious injury.
Similarly, people incarcerated for drug crimes were typically not convicted of playing a leadership or
x

violent role in drug trafficking conspiracies:


Only 14 percent were sentenced for being a manager, supervisor, leader, or organizer in the
offense



Fewer than 25 percent were sentenced for the use or presence of a weapon during the offense



Only 14 percent were sentenced for using violence, making a credible threat to use violence, or
directing the use of violence during the offense

xi

x

The US Sentencing Commission found that individuals’ roles can range from courier to high-level supplier or
importer (2011b).
xi

This factor only became incorporated in sentencing starting in the 2011 amendment year.

12

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

Mandatory minimum sentences also drove growth in long sentences
for weapon offenses
Like lengthy sentences associated with mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses, weaponrelated sentencing enhancements can yield long prison terms. The most frequently applied
enhancement is 18 USC § 924 (c), which mandates that people who possess, brandish, or fire a weapon
during the commission of a drug trafficking or violent offense are subject to an additional penalty on top
of the sentence imposed for the main offense, the length of which varies depending on how the weapon
was used.
As shown in figure 8, the number of people in federal prison for weapon offenses has grown
considerably in the past two decades, increasing by 23,000 people. Many of these individuals were
convicted of this weapon enhancement, often on top of a drug offense subject to a mandatory minimum.
The long lengths of stay associated with mandatory weapon enhancements have driven growth in the
federal system; long after the number of admissions for weapon offenses plateaued (and even declined),
the population continued to climb rapidly.

FIGURE 8

The number of people incarcerated for weapon offenses has increased rapidly, despite a plateau in
admissions
35,000

Standing

Admissions

30,000
25,000
20,000
15,000
10,000
5,000
0
1994

1996

1998

2000

2002

2004

2006

2008

2010

2012

2014

Source: Task Force staff analysis of BOP FY 1994–2014 data.

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

13

There are 20,000 people in federal prison who were convicted of this weapon enhancement, 89
percent of them having it applied at sentencing. The length of the enhancement varies based on the
details of the offense, so people who fire weapons have longer mandatory sentences than people who
merely possess (but do not brandish or fire) their weapons. The mandatory minimum penalty for
possession, however, is still five years on top of whatever sentence is imposed for the underlying
offense, be it a drug or a violent offense. For example, if an individual is convicted of trafficking a
quantity of drugs that would trigger a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, and possessed a weapon
while doing so, then the person could be subject to a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence.
Those convicted of possession make up a majority of those in federal prison convicted of 18 USC §
924 (c), but possession can cover a wide variety of behaviors, many of which do not involve the use of
violence. For example, the courts have found that having a weapon in one’s house or in one’s car could
30

qualify as possession, resulting in this lengthy enhancement. Individuals in federal prison who received
the mandatory enhancement for a single count of possession have average prison terms of almost 15
years.
Importantly, histories of violence are not a prerequisite for applying the 18 USC § 924 (c)
mandatory minimum. About 40 percent of individuals convicted of possession were in the lowest two
criminal history categories at sentencing. Most individuals convicted for weapon possession have
minimal histories of violence, with 72 percent having no serious histories of violence prior to the current
offense and almost half having no histories of violence whatsoever.

With Growth, Comes Consequences
Rising costs
The BOP’s growth and size have created a tremendous financial burden for the federal government,
requiring significant investment in basic housing and infrastructure and leaving few resources for the
xii

important work of supporting rehabilitation and successful reentry. The BOP’s budget remains
31

persistently high despite recent reductions, with $7.5 billion appropriated in FY 2016. Adjusting for
inflation, the cost of federal prisons grew from $950 million to almost $7.5 billion in the past 35 years,
32

an increase of 687 percent. These expenditures have increased at twice the rate of the rest of the DOJ
budget. The BOP accounts for 25 percent of that budget today, up from approximately 20 percent in
33

2009. This rapid growth in spending has had a limited—and likely diminishing—impact on public safety
as federal prisons filled with people convicted of less serious offenses.

xii

In FY 2014, the average annual cost of incarceration was $30,620 per person. The average annual cost to confine
an individual in a Residential Reentry Center was $28,999.

14

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

More prison spending also means less support for treatment, prevention, and
intervention programs ... And, unless we address it, the situation will only get worse
and will have a real, negative effect on public safety.
Richard Hartunian, US Attorney for the Northern District of New York, January 28, 2015

The toll on individuals, families, and communities
The significant growth of incarceration in the federal system—and across the country at both state and
local levels—has come at tremendous cost to individuals, families, and communities, and to society
overall. Incarceration not only imposes an opportunity cost in the form of lost wages and livelihoods, but
also takes a damaging toll on the mental health of those serving time, many of whom exhibit higher rates
34

of depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other mental illnesses. Absent effective
rehabilitative programs, the experience of incarceration can be criminogenic, or likely to cause the very
35

behavior it is punishing. Moreover, the collateral consequences of having served time in prison can last
for life. Legal barriers to employment, housing, and voting, to name only a few obstacles, can have a
profound impact on a person’s likelihood of success following release from prison. In addition, the
stigma associated with a criminal background presents a significant challenge for those seeking to
resume life outside prison walls.
Incarceration also takes a toll on the children and families left behind. Children of incarcerated
parents have been found to exhibit more negative behavioral, academic, and emotional outcomes, and
36

are more likely than their peers to end up in prison. Families of the incarcerated typically experience
financial hardship because of the loss of a key wage earner and the costs of prison visits and telephone
37

calls. These economic challenges lead many families with loved ones behind bars to move frequently,
resulting in an expensive, disruptive pattern of residential relocation that makes retaining jobs and
succeeding in school more difficult.

38

Overall, the removal and return of community members through incarceration at both the federal
and state levels weakens the social fabric and vibrancy of communities, particularly communities of
39

color. When large populations of adult men cycle in and out of their neighborhoods, community
support systems are destabilized.

40

Overcrowding and poor conditions of confinement
Despite a massive prison construction effort, growth of the federal prison population since 1980 has
overwhelmed capacity at many of the BOP’s 122 correctional facilities. Overcrowding, defined as the
percentage of the prison population that exceeds a facility’s rated capacity, has been the norm in the
BOP for years and continues despite the recent dip in population. Figure 9 shows that growth in the
BOP population has outpaced capacity. The federal prison population would need to drop by about
50,000 to be in compliance with rated capacity and enable the BOP to end its reliance on private
facilities. While crowding in any correctional facility creates challenges, it is particularly disturbing that

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

15

the BOP’s most overcrowded institutions tend to be those housing those who pose the greatest security
risk. Overcrowding across all BOP facilities was at 20 percent at the end of calendar year 2015, but the
figure was 45 percent at high-security institutions.

41

FIGURE 9

Growth in BOP population has outpaced capacity
250,000

Capacity

Contract

Overcapacity

200,000

150,000

100,000

50,000

0
1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013 2015
Sources: James 2014; Federal Bureau of Prisons 2015; Federal Bureau of Prisons, correspondence with the Task Force, 2016. As
modified by Task Force staff.

Prison overcrowding is not merely an inconvenience or a cause of discomfort for the incarcerated.
The excessive numbers in prison escalate tensions behind bars and stretch staff, creating conditions
that threaten safety and security for corrections officers and those they oversee. Overcrowding,
coupled with insufficient staffing, restricts the ability of wardens to foster a rehabilitative environment
because staff time is dominated by custody duties. The large populations also strain facility
infrastructure, including sewage, ventilation, and power systems, which leads to unsafe and unhealthy
conditions for all. Task Force members observed the realities of overcrowding firsthand when touring
the medium-security facility at the US Penitentiary, Atlanta. The prison’s tiny cells held two or
sometimes three men, many of whom had spent years living in such cramped conditions.

16

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

Crowding means… cramming three inmates into a cell made for two in areas of the
prison not suitable for inmate housing. Crowding means fights or disturbances over
phones, showers, televisions, and basketball courts.
Eric O. Young, President of the American Federation of Government Employees
Council of Prison Locals, March 11, 2015

As the Task Force’s visit to Atlanta vividly demonstrated, BOP facilities are badly overcrowded and
beset with staffing limits that are detrimental to the safety and wellbeing of officers as well as the
incarcerated. As the population in federal prisons ballooned, new prison construction was unable to
keep pace. Even the growth in the BOP budget has been insufficient to minimize crowding and ensure
adequate staffing. The BOP’s case management program makes the staffing shortage clear. The
42

program was originally designed for roughly twice the number of staff it currently employs. Moreover,
the BOP’s medium- and high-security facilities have even higher degrees of overcrowding; this can
breed misconduct within incarcerated populations, resulting in increased violence. The BOP has
estimated that every 1 percent-age point increase in overcrowding results in an increase of 4.1 assaults
per 5,000 people in prison.

43

Inadequate programming
In addition to creating security problems, overcrowding undermines the BOP’s ability to provide
programs, health services, case planning, and treatment that can help those in prison successfully return
to the community. In the BOP, every staff member is trained to assist with security duties. In
overcrowded prisons, that fact means that teachers, psychologists, and other non-custody staff can be
44

diverted to fill security posts when a shortage of correctional officers occurs. This practice is so
widespread it has an official name, “augmentation.” It was described to Task Force members multiple
times by BOP staff and management at all levels.
Aside from the disruptions in programs caused by augmentation, the sheer volume of people in
prison means that demand for many programs far exceeds capacity. Such overloaded programs include
graduate equivalency, postsecondary education, vocational training, and treatment programs for
45

individuals convicted of sex offenses; many of these programs have been found to reduce recidivism
or increase an individual’s employment prospects upon release.

46

A New Path
As detailed above, decades-long unprecedented growth has created daunting challenges for the federal
prison system. Overcrowding not only creates danger for staff and those they oversee, but also limits
the availability of programs to prepare the incarcerated for a productive future. Prison spending has

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

17

shot up rapidly, straining resources needed for other DOJ priorities, yet there has been little thoughtful
evaluation of the public safety return on our investment, or consideration of less expensive and more
effective alternatives. Total costs remain unsustainably high, yet budgets are insufficient to provide the
environment and case management necessary to promote rehabilitation for an incarcerated population
so large.
Despite this web of problems, there are hopeful signs. The prison population has fallen for the first
time in more than 30 years, and recent policy changes to accelerate release have not been accompanied
47

by a spike in recidivism. All branches of government have contributed to recent reductions in the
prison population by enacting both legislative and policy changes, including the Fair Sentencing Act, the
Smart on Crime initiative, and a modification by the US Sentencing Commission known as Drugs Minus
Two (see box 6).

BOX 6

Key Changes in Legislation and Policy






The Fair Sentencing Act, passed by Congress in 2010, reduced the sentencing disparity
between crack and powder cocaine by increasing the quantities that triggered a mandatory
minimum penalty for trafficking crack cocaine and removing a mandatory minimum penalty for
possession. Since then, the number of people convicted of and sentenced for crack offenses has
dropped sharply, average crack sentences are lower, and, based on guideline changes applied
retroactively, more than 7,700 individuals had their sentences reduced. The retroactive
changes, however, did not change the mandatory minimum for those sentenced before 2010.
Smart on Crime, an initiative launched by former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2013, shifted
Department of Justice priorities, directing prosecutors to focus on the most important law
enforcement priorities and to reserve mandatory minimum penalties for the most serious drug
cases. This reform built on 2010 DOJ policy changes that enabled prosecutors to take individual characteristics into account in making charging decisions and reversing the requirement
that prosecutors charge the most serious, readily provable offense(s) in all prosecutions. Smart
on Crime urged prosecutors to exercise their prosecutorial discretion and refrain from charging
offenses that carry mandatory minimum penalties in less serious cases. Guidance to federal
prosecutors explicitly stated that “long sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenses do
not promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation.” In the first year of this policy, 20
percent fewer people were convicted of a drug offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.
Drugs Minus Two, or the 2014 Drug Amendment (Amendment 782) from the US Sentencing
Commission, modified the recommended guideline level and reduced sentences for most drug
offenses. The amendment also included a retroactive application, which will modify sentences
for up to 40,000 people currently in federal prison by an average of 25 months. This was
responsible for the November 2015 release of about 6,000 individuals. The US Sentencing
Commission estimates that the change in the way drug sentences are calculated will benefit
most people sentenced for drug crimes, but this reform does not alter underlying mandatory
minimum penalties.

Sources: Holder 2010, 2013; US Sentencing Commission 2014a, Table 43; 2014b; 2014c; 2014e; 2015a, Table 43; 2015e.

18

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

But while the recent ten percent drop in population is significant and encouraging, it is greatly
overshadowed by the tremendous growth that preceded it. Fixing the widespread problems spawned by
that growth is a complex task, one requiring a thorough overhaul of federal policies and practices to
ensure the right people are sentenced to prison and more effective alternative sanctions are available
for the rest.
However, the BOP cannot take on this challenge alone. In fact, the BOP has very little control over
who is confined in federal facilities or how long they stay there. True reform, the kind that will improve
public safety while helping more people leave prison with the tools they need to rebuild their lives,
requires a systemwide approach. Recommendations to accomplish that shift are outlined in the
chapters that follow.

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE FEDERAL CORRECTIONS SYSTEM

19

Recommendation 1: Reserve Prison for Those
Convicted of the Most Serious Federal Crimes
Incarceration is a highly punitive, costly, and potentially harmful intervention that should be used
sparingly and judiciously. The sanction of imprisonment is justified by the need to punish individuals,
ensure accountability, and protect the public. But any sentence longer than necessary is unjust,
inconsistent with the goals of sentencing as codified in federal statute, and potentially at cross-purpose
with the goal of keeping communities safe. The Task Force analysis makes clear that lengthy terms of
incarceration have become the norm in the federal prison system. Less severe—and less costly—
alternatives to incarceration are used infrequently. And many federally prosecuted individuals receive
lengthy mandatory minimum sentences that do not accurately reflect the true severity of their offenses.
To address these problems, the Task Force recommends the following actions:


Maintain drug mandatory minimum penalties for only the most serious offenses and revise
the Sentencing Guidelines accordingly



Allow judges to sentence below the mandatory minimum for certain weapon possession
offenses associated with nonviolent crimes



Review all other mandatory minimum penalties, establish a “sunset provision” for any future
mandatory minimums, and require prison, fiscal, and racial impact statements for proposed
legislation and Sentencing Guidelines



Encourage and incentivize alternatives to incarceration



Limit the types of cases prosecuted federally

Background
Long sentences for drug trafficking and weapon offenses are not necessarily determined by individuals’
specific conduct. Instead, broad federal statutes that carry stiff, and often excessive, minimum penalties
are based on blunt indicators such as the type or quantity of drug or the mere presence of a weapon.
These mandatory minimums apply regardless of critical context, such as the role an individual played in
a drug-trafficking enterprise or whether a weapon was brandished or used during a drug-related crime.
Though federal judges are required by federal law (see 18 USC § 3553(a)) to “impose a sentence
sufficient, but not greater than necessary” to achieve the societal goals of incarceration, this instruction
is not always followed. The Task Force reviewed research and sentencing data, heard extensive
testimony from a diverse array of people with experiences in the federal system, and met with people
currently and formerly incarcerated in federal prisons. Based on this extensive investigation, the Task
Force reached two key conclusions: terms of incarceration in federal prison are often substantially
greater than necessary to meet the goals of sentencing, and mandatory minimum penalties have been a
primary contributor to this imbalance.

20

RECOMMENDATION 1: RESERVE PRISON FOR THE MOST SERIOUS FEDERAL CRIMES

Under federal law, judges rarely have discretion to sentence an individual below the statutory
minimum. As a result, even if “the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and
48

characteristics of the defendant” do not warrant a lengthy sentence, judges are often legally required
to impose a much greater term than may be necessary. This can result in tremendous cost for taxpayers,
the correctional system, and the lives of those sentenced to prison.
Congress has proposed reforms to ensure that fewer people are subject to mandatory minimum
sentences for lower-level or less serious offenses. These fixes represent a positive step, but they do not
go far enough to address the underlying drivers of prison growth or to prevent sentencing excesses in
the future. The Task Force has concluded, as a result of its year-long fact-finding process, that the
mandatory minimum framework for these offenses is fundamentally broken. Rather than being allowed
to tailor sentences to account for all facets of the crime and the defendant or to encourage
rehabilitation and reentry, judges find their hands tied by an extraordinarily punitive one-size-fits-all
structure.
As discussed in the previous chapter on the transformation of the federal correction system,
incarceration yields diminishing marginal returns. As more people are federally prosecuted and
sentenced to prison, more people who are not direct threats to public safety are incarcerated. Tens of
thousands of people are now in federal prison for drug crimes, including people who have minimal
criminal histories, did not use violence, and did not play leadership roles in drug enterprises.

Long sentences also incur opportunity costs, as they divert resources and attention
from other public safety measures.
Marc Mauer, Executive Director of the Sentencing Project, March 11, 2015

Moreover, recent reforms have demonstrated that policymakers can shorten sentences and time
served in federal prison for drug offenses without a corresponding increase in crime or drug abuse. In
2010, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced crack cocaine penalties to levels more in line with powder
cocaine. The USSC found that the policy reform reduced disparity in sentencing between the two drugs,
cut the number of people in federal prison, and reduced federal prosecutions for crack cocaine—results
achieved without any increase in the use of crack cocaine.

49

A similar change enacted in 2007 reduced the advisory sentencing ranges for crack cocaine
50

offenses by 20 percent and made the change retroactive, but did not change the mandatory minimum.
A study that followed people for five years after their release under this policy change found that they
51

had lower recidivism rates than a prior cohort of individuals who served longer sentences. In short,
USSC research has demonstrated that reductions to sentence length and time served do not harm
public safety.
The Task Force recommendations would significantly reduce applicability of the most common
mandatory minimum penalties, but judges would continue to impose long sentences when appropriate.

RECOMMENDATION 1: RESERVE PRISON FOR THE MOST SERIOUS FEDERAL CRIMES

21

At the end of FY 2014, more than 74,000 people in federal prison were not convicted of an offense that
carried a mandatory minimum penalty.

xiii

Their average sentence was more than 80 months. Judges are

clearly comfortable imposing lengthy sentences for the tens of thousands of cases in which they are
warranted, but for which there is no statutory minimum.
As noted above, this may in some cases reflect judges hewing closely to punitive guidelines in drug
cases. If so, that pattern of behavior provides additional evidence supporting a new approach. If the
Guidelines better reflect actual offense conduct, then those most culpable will still receive the
appropriate punishment from sentencing judges.
The Task Force is confident that judges will be able to exercise their discretion within the
framework of the Sentencing Guidelines. The Guidelines are the starting point for all sentences, and
incorporate dozens of factors related to criminal history and offense conduct. There are sufficient
safeguards, including sentencing appeals, to ensure that even without mandatory penalties, those most
culpable will receive lengthy prison terms. Moreover, this Task Force does not recommend abolition of
the “kingpin” mandatory minimum, which applies to individuals who organize “continuing criminal
enterprises,” or large cartels. This penalty is rarely applied and is used only in the most serious cases. It
was therefore not included in the Task Force analysis and not considered within the scope of these
recommendations.

Recommendations
The Task Force has several recommendations to ensure that prison beds are reserved for the most
serious federal crimes. The recommendations will restore proportionality, individualization, and judicial
discretion to federal sentencing, while allowing scarce resources to flow toward other programs and
agencies that promote public safety.

Maintain drug mandatory minimum penalties for only the most serious offenses
and revise the Sentencing Guidelines accordingly
The Task Force recommends that Congress repeal the mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses,
except for drug kingpins as defined in the “continuing criminal enterprise” statute. This reform should
be applied prospectively for all eligible drug offenses at sentencing. In addition, retroactive application
of this policy should be phased in starting 24 months after the changes are made prospectively.
(Individuals eligible for a sentence reduction under the Fair Sentencing Act, instead, should be
considered for resentencing immediately.) The 24-month phase-in period will ensure individuals
adequate time to prepare for release and will enable the system to prepare for the effect of this reform.

xiii

This figure excludes supervision violators.

22

RECOMMENDATION 1: RESERVE PRISON FOR THE MOST SERIOUS FEDERAL CRIMES

Once drug-trafficking mandatory minimum penalties are restricted to high-level drug traffickers,
the USSC should revise the Sentencing Guidelines to better account for role and culpability and to rely
less on imprecise proxies such as drug quantity. The USSC should revisit the Guidelines to assess
whether they adequately account for the following at sentencing:


Revenue or profit derived from drug trafficking



Clearly defined aggravating and mitigating role factors



Alternatives to incarceration for lower-level drug trafficking offenses

Allow judges to sentence below the mandatory minimum for certain weapon
possession offenses associated with nonviolent crimes
The Task Force recommends that Congress create a new mechanism akin to the drug safety valve but
for certain convictions for weapon possession. This mechanism would enable judges to sentence below
the mandatory minimum weapon possession enhancement for nonviolent offenses, when details of the
case warrant it. The reform would apply to people sentenced for a mandatory minimum for gun
possession (i.e., five-year 18 USC § 924(c)), excluding those who committed a violent offense in which a
firearm was possessed or any offense in which a firearm was brandished or fired. Instead of imposing
the mandatory minimum, judges would be instructed to weigh the circumstances of the offense, the
characteristics of the individual, and other factors outlined in 18 USC § 3553(a) to assess whether each
sentence enhancement is appropriate or disproportionately severe. The Task Force calls for this reform
to be applied prospectively.
Based on data, testimony, and stakeholder outreach, the Task Force found that mandatory
minimum sentences for firearms should be applied more selectively. In the federal system, individuals
are subject to a mandatory minimum penalty for “possessing” a weapon, regardless of whether the
weapon was actually used in the offense. The applicable law imposes a five-year mandatory minimum
penalty on top of any other sentence imposed. This is the most prevalent gun-related mandatory
minimum, affecting more than 10,000 people in federal prison; the average total sentence for these
individuals is about 15 years. While no data exist to describe how each of these individuals possessed
the weapon, the Task Force encountered numerous cases in which a person was subject to the
mandatory minimum for having a weapon in the trunk of his or her car, in another room, or in another
building altogether.
Such sentences are excessive. In addition, most people convicted under this statute do not have
serious criminal histories and did not brandish or fire a weapon. Moreover, this mandatory minimum
falls especially heavily on people of color: 53 percent of people convicted of 18 USC § 924(c) for
possession were black, and 24 percent were Hispanic.
This recommended judicial mechanism should be a model for other mandatory minimum penalties.
Although the Task Force did not fully review every mandatory minimum penalty, it amassed substantial
evidence that many of these penalties are applied inconsistently and could be longer than necessary to
satisfy the societal objectives of incarceration. The Task Force recommends that Congress and the

RECOMMENDATION 1: RESERVE PRISON FOR THE MOST SERIOUS FEDERAL CRIMES

23

USSC monitor the impact of this proposed change on prosecutorial practices, sentencing, in-prison
conduct and overcrowding, and recidivism. After careful review of the data, Congress should consider
expanding this mechanism to other mandatory minimum penalties.

Review all other mandatory minimum penalties, establish a “sunset provision” for
any future mandatory minimums, and require prison, fiscal, and racial impact
statements for proposed legislation and Sentencing Guidelines
The Task Force recommends that the USSC update its report on mandatory minimum penalties to
identify those that violate the principles of sentencing as outlined in 18 USC § 3553(a). The Task Force
also calls on Congress to apply a “sunset provision” to any future mandatory minimum penalties,
requiring congressional reauthorization after no more than five years. In addition, the Task Force
recommends that the Administration and the Judiciary prepare prison, fiscal, and racial and ethnic
impact statements. These analyses should also be conducted for proposed changes to the Sentencing
Guidelines or to criminal law (authority or penalty) to improve information available to policymakers
and the public.

USSC updated mandatory minimum report
The Task Force did not review the application of all 200 mandatory minimum penalties in the federal
criminal code to ensure consistency with 18 USC § 3553(a). Based on the data and testimony about drug
and weapon offenses, some other mandatory penalties are likely to drive unwarranted disparities and
longer-than-necessary prison sentences. Therefore, the USSC, which in 2011 reviewed the application
of mandatory minimum penalties and its effects, should periodically update that report to identify other
52

potential areas of reform. This review should compare the underlying conduct, sentence length, prison
misconduct, and recidivism rates of people who were subject to mandatory minimums with those who
were not.

xiv

Penalties found to drive unwanted disparities or unnecessarily long periods of incarceration

should be identified and the USSC should recommend changes to Congress.

Sunset provision
As demonstrated with drug trafficking and weapon mandatory minimum penalties, even the most wellintentioned law can be applied more broadly or more severely than necessary. These experiences
suggest it is unlikely that Congress would subsequently reduce or remove any future mandatory
minimum penalty, even if it produces counterproductive results. The Task Force therefore proposes
that all future mandatory minimum penalties include “sunset clauses,” requiring congressional
reauthorization at a regular interval of no more than five years following enactment. This step would
ensure that counterproductive and overly punitive penalties are not retained due to inertia.

xiv

The USSC has already laid a blueprint for this review in its analysis of child pornography offenses (2012).

24

RECOMMENDATION 1: RESERVE PRISON FOR THE MOST SERIOUS FEDERAL CRIMES

Impact assessments
The Task Force believes that policymakers and the public should be better informed about the
projected prison population, as well as the fiscal, racial, and ethnic impacts of proposed changes to
criminal laws and sentencing guidelines. While impact statements are by necessity projections or
estimates, they can be essential to those considering changes in law and policy.
Although prison impact assessments that estimate fiscal impacts are currently required for all
legislation proposed by the executive and judicial branches and upon request by 18 USC § 4047, they
are not always submitted. Moreover, when population and cost estimates on proposed legislation are
prepared by the DOJ or the USSC at the request of congressional committees, they are not always
xv

publicly released. The USSC prepares sentencing impact assessments when considering amendments
to the Sentencing Guidelines; it also prepares sentencing and prison impact assessments for Congress,
including for the Congressional Budget Office.

xvi

No parallel federal requirement exists to prepare a racial and ethnic impact statement, which would
examine the potential disparities of proposed legislation before its adoption. Connecticut, Iowa, and
53

Oregon currently have racial and ethnic impact statement laws. The Task Force believes strongly that
policymakers should fully understand and discuss the potentially disparate impact of legislation on racial
and ethnic minorities before bill passage, when there is still opportunity to consider alternatives. More
than three-quarters of people in the BOP for a drug offense are either black or Hispanic, highlighting the
need to monitor the racial and ethnic impact of future changes to the federal prison population.

Encourage and incentivize alternatives to incarceration
The Task Force recommends that the USSC, as it revises its Guidelines for drug offenses, encourage
probation for lower-level drug trafficking offenses. The Task Force recommends that any statutory
prohibition on probation be eliminated, enabling the USSC to determine the most appropriate sentence
under the Guidelines. The USSC should also consider probation for other offense types and develop
information regarding the availability and evidence base of alternatives to incarceration. The Task
Force calls on prosecutors and judges to establish and use alternatives to incarceration, including frontend diversion courts, problem-solving courts (such as drug courts and veterans courts), and evidencebased probation that employs swift and certain sanctions or other proven strategies. Finally, the Task
Force recommends that Congress encourage alternatives to incarceration by authorizing and funding
such front-end diversion programs, along with evaluating alternatives and sharing information

xv

The USSC has made its estimates publicly available when it testifies or submits a written statement on pending
bills. See, for example, its submission to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the Sentencing Reform and
Corrections Act of 2015 (Saris 2015).
xvi

As part of the legislative process, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is required to prepare a cost estimate
for bills and resolutions approved by congressional committees. In addition, CBO provides congressional staff
informal estimates for proposals earlier in the legislative process (“Frequently Asked Questions About CBO Cost
Estimates,” CBO, last updated February 20, 2013, https://www.cbo.gov/about/products/ce-faq).

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25

regarding best practices. Federal judges and prosecutors should also explore partnerships with existing
state problem-solving courts to most effectively use training and resources.
The Task Force repeatedly heard testimony from both state justice reform experts and federal
justice practitioners that alternatives to incarceration, when used in appropriate cases, can reduce
recidivism while saving taxpayers money. While the federal docket may differ from those of the states,
many individuals would still qualify as low level and be eligible for nonprison sanctions. As discussed
above, almost half of those convicted of a federal drug crime are in the lowest two criminal history
categories and one in four have no prior criminal history. Almost 80 percent have no history of violence
and nearly 85 percent were not sentenced for being managers, supervisors, leaders, or organizers of a
drug enterprise. The Task Force does not believe that all these individuals should receive a sentence
other than prison, and recognizes that noncitizens and other individuals may be ineligible to receive
54

alternatives to incarceration. Nonetheless, carefully crafted guidelines coupled with judicial discretion
should help identify those for whom alternatives are appropriate, and in such cases, what the most
suitable alternatives would be.
Different people pose different risks to the public, and some may best be held accountable in the
community. Probation may be a reasonable alternative to incarceration in many cases, though it is
infrequently used in the federal system. Other models are also gaining traction. A nationwide review of
drug courts found they were effective at reducing recidivism and drug use and at addressing needs
55

related to employment and education. This 23-site evaluation also found that drug courts are cost
56

beneficial. Other models, such as programs that engage swift and certain sanctions, have proven
highly effective at reducing crime, even among people addicted to methamphetamine.

57

Alternative sentences are rarely used at the federal level, but experiments with diversion programs
58

are under way in a number of judicial districts. One such program highlighted for the Task Force
operates in the Eastern District of New York and is described by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in
this way:
I visited a drug court in federal court in Brooklyn that focuses on giving offenders a chance to
escape the grip of drugs. Instead of lengthy prison sentences, the program is designed to hold the
defendants accountable, but to do it in a way that offers support, drug treatment, and job
opportunities. While it’s true that there are dangerous defendants from whom society needs to
be protected, there are others, like the defendants I saw today, for whom alternatives to
59
incarceration make a lot more sense.
60

Although a small proportion of cases are handled through this program, it is nonetheless a promising
model for expansion throughout the country.
The Task Force also heard testimony about a program in the Central District of California, the postplea diversion program known as CASA (Conviction and Sentence Alternatives), which features
collaboration among prosecutors, defenders, judges, and pretrial services officers. Under this two-track
program, participants successful in track one can have their charges dismissed, while participants
successful in track two receive a noncustodial sentence.

26

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RECOMMENDATION 1: RESERVE PRISON FOR THE MOST SERIOUS FEDERAL CRIMES

While this experimentation is heartening, the vast majority of federal sentences (90 percent)
incorporate a term of incarceration. What’s more, most judicial districts lack alternatives besides
probation, such as specialty courts or post-plea diversion from prison. In some instances, this may
reflect the seriousness of cases that warrant prosecution. And in light of the other Task Force
recommendations related to prosecution and sentencing, prosecutors may be less likely to bring lowerlevel cases in the future. But in other instances, alternatives to prosecution or incarceration may be
most appropriate, and a wider array of nonprison sanctions will be necessary. The Task Force
recommends that the USSC provide judges with more concrete guidance about the evidence base
behind rehabilitation and the appropriateness of the following alternatives in each case:


Probation for low-risk individuals who commit less serious offenses



Swift and certain sanctions for individuals who violate probation



Drug courts or other problem-solving courts



Veterans courts



Front-end diversion courts

To ensure that appropriate alternatives to incarceration exist, each judicial district should establish
front-end diversionary programs. Judicial districts that create such programs should receive grants to
support this work, and prosecutors’ offices should also receive funding to support interagency diversion
and treatment programs. In addition, grants should be made available to support judicial districts
developing pilot diversion programs based on evidence-based principles not yet tested at the federal
level. Such grants should also fund evaluations to promote information sharing and the adoption of
evidence-based practices across judicial districts. These models are promising, but will continue to be
underused until all districts can afford them and receive sufficient incentives to adopt them.

Limit the types of cases prosecuted federally
The Task Force recommends that the DOJ and federal prosecutors continue reviewing case selection
and charging practices to ensure that only the most serious cases that reflect a substantial federal
interest or that require unique federal jurisdiction or expertise are prosecuted federally. The Task Force
appreciates the unique capabilities of the federal government in addressing complicated interstate and
international crimes of any type, including certain drug trafficking, national security, immigration, and
white-collar crime.
Federal prosecutors have wide latitude in choosing the types of cases that they prosecute and what
62

they charge. In addition to the broad Principles of Federal Prosecution, the Attorney General sets
national priorities and policies, which are supplemented by district-level prosecutorial policies and
declination practices. These policies vary across the 94 judicial districts based on, among other things,
the nature and extent of local crime, resource constraints, and intergovernmental concerns, such as
whether the case may be prosecuted locally.
The Attorney General’s Smart on Crime policy, described above, encourages prosecutors to take
individual characteristics into account while charging cases, to ensure that only the most serious cases

RECOMMENDATION 1: RESERVE PRISON FOR THE MOST SERIOUS FEDERAL CRIMES

27

are brought into the federal system and that mandatory minimum penalties are deployed more
judiciously. The initial results of Smart on Crime are promising but as yet incomplete. The Task Force
urges the DOJ to review data from all US Attorneys’ offices to determine how consistently the Smart on
Crime directives and principles are being applied across the country. While the Task Force understands
the need to tailor priorities and practices to particular districts, concerns remain that certain districts
may not be following the spirit of the change in policy. Moreover, it is unclear whether this discretion is
being used judiciously for crimes other than lower-level drug-trafficking offenses.

63

The Task Force also encourages prosecutors to expand the use of pretrial diversion as an
alternative to prosecution when the case needs to be prosecuted in the federal system. While the US
64

Attorneys’ Manual authorizes pretrial diversion for eligible individuals, the option is rarely used.

xvii

xvii

The eligibility requirements are set out in the US Attorneys’ Manual 9-22.000 Pretrial Diversion Program, and
include any individual who could be prosecuted and is not accused of an offense that should be referred to the state
for prosecution, convicted of two prior felonies, a current or former public official, or accused of an offense related
to national security.

28

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Recommendation 2: Promote a Culture of
Safety and Rehabilitation in Federal Facilities
Decades of growth in the federal prison population have made it increasingly difficult for the BOP to
maintain a secure environment conducive to rehabilitation. Persistent and long-term overcrowding has
inhibited the correctional policies and practices proven to reduce recidivism and protect public safety.
Despite years of involvement in various stages of the criminal justice system and firsthand experience
working in challenging correctional environments, Task Force members were surprised and alarmed by
the substandard policies, practices, and conditions in BOP facilities.
Public safety should be the goal and logical consequence of good corrections policy. In pursuit of
this outcome, the Task Force recommends that the President, Attorney General, and Congress provide
resources and guidance enabling the BOP to:


Enhance safety and security within federal correctional facilities



Deliver adequate and appropriate in-prison programming and services based on individual
risk for recidivism and identified needs



Identify programming shortages and expand program offerings to meet the assessed needs of
the prison population



Ensure conditions of confinement are conducive to rehabilitation



Develop greater opportunities for family engagement

Background
The BOP has the twin responsibilities of ensuring safety inside correctional facilities and promoting
safety outside the prison walls. But extreme overcrowding has thwarted the BOP’s efforts to maintain
and carry out policies and practices necessary to achieve these goals. Facing overcrowding that peaked
at 39 percent systemwide, the BOP has been forced to triple-bunk individuals, transform classroom
space into housing, reassign treatment and program staff to security duties, and increase caseloads for
65

66

institutional case managers. Crowded conditions have also fueled an increase in assaults. To deal
with these immediate safety concerns, emergency security measures have become standard within the
BOP, compromising its ability to establish the rehabilitative environment necessary for both facility
security and public safety.
The consequences of such conditions were recently highlighted by the National Academy of
Sciences, which documented a significant body of literature on the adverse effects of prison
67

overcrowding on the health, behavior, and morale of those behind bars. Research and practice show
that facility-based safety and public safety are compatible—if not mutually dependent—goals. A firm
body of evidence demonstrates that programming aimed at reducing risk for recidivism also reduces
misconduct inside prisons.

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29

According to the BOP, 40 percent of people released from federal prison are rearrested or have
69

their supervision revoked within three years. Studies have shown that treatment targeting each indi70

vidual’s criminogenic risk factors is the most effective way to reduce recidivism. Further, researchers
have found that to reduce reoffending, prioritizing resources toward individuals at high risk to commit
71

more crimes is critical. Although the Task Force repeatedly heard BOP officials say that “reentry
begins on day one,” the limited programs and resources inside its prisons suggest there is much work to
be done to promote rehabilitation and improve outcomes for individuals returning to the community.

Victims’ rights are important in providing accountability, but victims are also
interested in efforts to prevent offending, including reducing recidivism.
Susan Howley, Director of Public Policy for the National Center for Victims of Crime, March 11, 2015

Recommendations
Today, the BOP sits at a crossroads, presented with an opportunity to embrace widescale system
reform and take on a more proactive role in promoting of public safety. Overcrowding has recently
declined to 20 percent above the system’s rated capacity. While this is still unacceptably high, it affords
the BOP some breathing room to reassess housing assignments and the use of private correctional
facilities. Moreover, after 16 years of negotiations, in July 2014 the BOP signed a collective bargaining
agreement with the union representing 85 percent of BOP staff, the Council of Prison Locals, American
72

Federation of Government Employees. This improved working relationship with the union has
enabled the BOP to enact significant policy changes that promote safety inside correctional facilities
and improve public safety when individuals in BOP custody return home. Considering these positive
changes, the Task Force recommends the BOP refocus its energies on evidence-based risk reduction
strategies that have been proven effective at the state and local levels. The Task Force provides the
following recommendations to enhance safety and security, to base programming on individual risk and
needs and thus improve both system and individual outcomes, and to establish a culture and
environment conducive to rehabilitation.

Enhance safety and security within federal correctional facilities
The Task Force recommends the BOP assess current staffing levels, identify staffing shortages, and
reallocate workers across facilities to support appropriate inmate-to-staff ratios as the overall
population declines. In addition, the BOP should review current housing assignments to ensure
individuals are housed in accordance with rated cell capacity. Last, the Task Force recommends that
Congress pass legislation clarifying the good conduct time calculation to enable sentence reduction of
up to 15 percent (consistent with the law’s original intent) to incentivize positive behavior.

30

RECOMMENDATION 2: PROMOTE CULTURE OF SAFETY AND REHABILITA TION

Sufficient staffing
The safety of both federal correctional staff and those housed in federal facilities is paramount to a
functional corrections system. Staff must be able to do their jobs with the knowledge that their risk of
victimization is minimized through appropriate staffing levels. Likewise, those incarcerated were
sentenced to a term of imprisonment, not to a period of confinement during which they live in fear of
violence. Analyses conducted within the BOP found that serious assaults in prison are associated with
73

rising inmate-to-staff ratios. With consideration of recent population reductions and projected future
declines following additional reforms, the BOP should assess staffing levels and needs across its
facilities to reallocate staff as appropriate to ensure all institutions are staffed at appropriate levels to
maintain prison safety and security.

Housing assignments consistent with rated capacity
As the Task Force observed firsthand, overcrowding has forced the BOP to triple-bunk cells across its
74

facilities, exceeding their rated capacity. Wardens at each BOP facility have discretion to provide
temporary housing space by adding an additional bunk within a cell or converting program space to
75

housing. As a result, more individuals in federal custody share cells designed for fewer residents,
76

increasing opportunities for violence and victimization. As the federal prison population declines, the
Task Force recommends that the BOP review all housing assignments to ensure individuals are housed
in accordance with rated cell capacity.

Good conduct credits
Other strategies that can help produce a safe environment for correctional officers and incarcerated
individuals include the use of an incentive known as “good conduct time.” Under federal law, people in
federal prison are eligible to earn up to 54 days off their sentence each year for demonstrating good
behavior. While the law’s intent was to provide a 15 percent good conduct credit and ensure everyone
served 85 percent of their sentences, the law was written ambiguously, resulting in varying
interpretations of how the credit should be calculated. The BOP’s calculation method, for example,
reduces the amount of potential good time that can be earned to about 13 percent of a given sentence,
or 47 days per year.

The greatest tool that the Bureau of Prisons has to encourage proper inmate
behavior, to foster the rehabilitative process, and to reduce the inmate population
and the cost of incarceration is the expanded use of good time credit. The sincerest
desire of almost every inmate is to get out of prison.
Charles and Susan Lytle, parents of an individual currently incarcerated in federal prison,
March 11, 2015

RECOMMENDATION 2: PROMOTE CULTURE OF S AFETY AND REHABILITA TION

31

Clarifying the appropriate calculation to realize the original intent of federal good time law will
77

require congressional action. The BOP has supported legislation to accomplish this, and the Task
Force recommends that Congress fix the technical error and ensure that all individuals demonstrating
good conduct in prison are afforded their full opportunity to receive good time.

Deliver adequate and appropriate in-prison programming and services based on
individual risk for recidivism and identified needs
The Task Force recommends that the BOP use an actuarial risk and needs assessment tool to predict
individual risk for recidivism and identify criminogenic need areas. Using these data, the Task Force
recommends that the BOP develop tailored case plans and deliver programming based on individual risk
to reoffend and criminogenic needs.

Actuarial risk and needs assessment
Recognizing the role of correctional policies that reduce recidivism in improving public safety, states
and localities across the country are using tools such as the Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) (see box 7)
model to guide program offerings and assignments both inside prison and under community
78

supervision. Such tools capture both static factors related to risk for re-offense and dynamic factors
that influence risk and can be addressed through programs and treatment. Validated assessment tools
also allow correctional systems to identify individuals at a high risk to commit future crime, and thus
ensure those individuals are a high priority for programs and treatment. Such prioritization has been
proven to reduce recidivism and, thus, improve public safety. Indeed, decades of research have shown
that empirically based actuarial tools to predict human behavior are more accurate than professional
judgment, which dominated the business of criminogenic risk assessment up until the 1970s.

79

Unfortunately, the BOP’s classification and designation tool does not conform to this current
standard of dynamic risk and needs assessment adopted by the field as best practice. While the BOP
currently uses empirical tools to determine an individual’s risk for institutional misconduct, it does not
use actuarial assessment instruments to identify individuals’ risk of recidivism or programming
needs.

xviii

The BOP believes its current classification and designation tool adequately predicts

recidivism, noting how closely misconduct and recidivism are correlated, and is currently evaluating
how well it predicts recidivism. However, the tool is currently validated solely to predict risk of
institutional misconduct.

xix

Moreover, the BOP relies on staff discretion to determine risk-reduction

xviii

BOP employees in the centralized Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) are responsible for
classification (custody level and level of supervision needed) and designation (initial facility assignment), based on a
review and coding of sentencing material, including the presentence report, provided by the sentencing court,
probation, and the US Marshals.
xix

In determining risk of misconduct and facility placement, the DSCC weighs several quantitative and qualitative
factors, such as criminal history, prior substance abuse, education level, public safety factors, and program needs. In
FY 2014, the DSCC evaluated more than 75,000 individuals for risk for institutional misconduct, classifying 65
percent as low or minimum risk, 28 percent as medium risk, and 7 percent as high risk (Federal Bureau of Prisons,
correspondence with the Task Force, 2015).

32

RECOMMENDATION 2: PROMOTE CULTURE OF SAFETY AND REHABILITA TION

programming placement; while such assessments usually include a clinical evaluation by a psychologist
and subsequent assessments by case managers, the process lacks an empirically validated assessment
of criminogenic needs. Further, assessments of individual programming needs are not typically
conducted until an individual has been assigned to a specific facility—one that may not offer
programming to meet his or her needs.

BOX 7

Risk-Needs-Responsivity Model
Based in cognitive social learning theory, the Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) model holds that certain
dynamic criminogenic risk factors can help predict an individual’s likelihood to commit crime in the
future, and that addressing those factors through programs and treatment can help reduce recidivism.
With a strong empirical foundation, the RNR model provides practitioners with a framework for
assessing risk for future crime and helping individuals prepare for successful reintegration:




Who? The risk principle dictates that the level of treatment provided should match an
individual’s risk for re-offense.
What? The need principle holds that treatment should target specific criminogenic factors that
contribute to an individual’s risk for re-offense.
How? The responsivity principle holds that the intensity and type of evidence-based
treatments should be tailored to the individual’s risk-level, criminogenic needs, and individual
learning style.

Studies indicate that programs that adhere fully to RNR principles are associated with recidivism
reductions, while those that fail to target programming based on risk and needs information yield
minimal reductions or no reductions in criminal reoffending.
Sources: Andrews and Bonta 2010; Andrews, Bonta, and Wormith 2006, 2011; Andrews et al. 1990.

Without collecting recidivism risk and criminogenic needs data for each individual in its custody, the
BOP cannot ensure that its programming resources are targeted to the right recipients, aligned to the
risk level and unique needs of each individual, and delivered at the intensity and frequency needed to
reduce the likelihood of future offending. Further, the lack of consistent measurement of risk factors
means such information cannot be seamlessly shared with community supervision agencies on release.
Given these factors, the Task Force concluded that it is unclear whether the BOP’s assessment
process can effectively guide an individual’s programming and predict the likelihood of reoffending after
release. Consistent with best practice now widely used in state corrections, the Task Force recommends
the BOP adopt a validated risk for recidivism and needs assessment tool. To support ongoing and
individualized treatment that extends through correctional custody and release, the BOP’s current risk
assessment tool should be calibrated to capture both static and dynamic factors that predict recidivism
in the community, and also expanded to integrate treatment needs to guide case management and
program participation.

RECOMMENDATION 2: PROMOTE CULTURE OF S AFETY AND REHABILITA TION

33

The risk and needs assessment tool should be compatible with the US Probation’s Post Conviction
Risk Assessment (PCRA) to improve information sharing at reentry to the community. Such
coordination across correctional agencies is critical to reentry success, and is explored further in the
following chapter. It is also imperative that corrections officials be aware that using static risk factors
80

can exacerbate unjust disparities, and take care to ensure that assessment tools are employed solely
to guide the individualized delivery of treatment and programming to improve reentry success.

Risk- and needs-based case plans
Once in place, the empirical risk and needs assessment should help shape the development of individual
case plans. Consistent with the RNR model, treatment should target the dynamic criminogenic factors
that contribute to an individual’s risk for reoffense. The BOP’s case plans should also be responsive to
the specific needs of special populations within its facilities, including women, the elderly, the infirmed,
those with mental health issues, LGBTQ individuals, persons with medical, mental, or physical
impairments, and all others with needs or personal factors and characteristics impacting the
rehabilitation process. Risk and needs assessments should be revisited throughout the period of
incarceration upon a significant triggering event (such as program completion or misconduct incident),
or annually, whichever comes first, to measure treatment progress and reentry preparedness.

Identify programming shortages and expand program offerings to meet the assessed
needs of the prison population
The Task Force recommends that the BOP use aggregate risk and needs data on its population to
conduct a systemwide assessment and identify surpluses and shortages in program capacity at each
facility. The Task Force recommends that the BOP, based on the outcome of that assessment, allocate
its resources to ensure that programming capacity matches the risk and needs of the population in each
institution. The Task Force also recommends that the BOP immediately expand educational and
occupational opportunities in response to demonstrated need across its facilities.

Aggregate risk and needs population profile
Without a validated risk and needs assessment that supports an aggregate risk and needs profile of its
population, the BOP cannot ensure it is allocating resources most effectively to addresses the
criminogenic needs of those in its custody. After adopting a validated risk and needs assessment
instrument, the BOP should use individual-level data to develop an aggregate profile of its population’s
criminogenic need areas. These profiles should also be developed at each facility to understand
institution-level program needs. The current approach, utilizing security level as a proxy for risk, may be
sufficient for the daily management of prisons, but certainly is not the current state of practice for
reentry preparation.

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RECOMMENDATION 2: PROMOTE CULTURE OF SAFETY AND REHABILITA TION

Systemwide program assessment
The BOP currently offers several programs that have been shown to reduce recidivism, including the
81

82

Residential Drug Abuse Program and prison industries. Others include elements of evidence-based
83

practice, such as cognitive-behavioral approaches or modified therapeutic communities. However,
84

such evidence-based programs are not available at all BOP facilities, and a lack of resources, program
staff, and treatment space restricts widespread and regular participation. Program access is further
constrained by facility-level eligibility requirements and prioritization of individuals close to release.
85

The BOP’s national program catalog is a publicly available inventory of evidence-based
programming offered in BOP facilities. However, the catalog does not provide clear guidance on the
specific criminogenic risk factors addressed through these programs, information essential to successful
case planning and program placement. Moreover, each facility offers programs that are not national or
fully compiled into a systemwide directory. The BOP’s national program catalog should be revised to
indicate the specific criminogenic need areas addressed through each national program and treatment
offering. In addition, the catalog should incorporate information on facility-specific programs, while
continuing to include documentation on whether programs are grounded in scientific evidence.
By pairing the aggregate risk and need data with the BOP’s inventory of available programs, the
BOP can identify gaps in services and, perhaps, redundancies. This knowledge could enable the BOP to
allocate resources more efficiently and thus address unmet treatment areas. The DOJ’s Bureau of
Justice Assistance has supported the development of a tool to assist prison systems in conducting a gap
analysis and determining programming requirements based on the risk and needs of the population (see
86

box 8). Obtaining a clear picture of the gaps in service within BOP prisons will enable it to effectively
expand programs and treatment in response to the population’s criminogenic need areas.

BOX 8

The CJ-TRAK Suite
With funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, leading criminologist Faye Taxman developed CJTRAK to help correctional agencies determine how closely their services and programs match the
criminogenic risk and need areas of the populations they house. The online portal uses population-level
data to assess current programming availability, identify system-level gaps, and recommend the
program distribution necessary to respond to the population’s criminogenic need areas.
Sources: “CJ-TRAK,” Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence, 2014, https://www.gmuace.org/tools/assess-capacity; “RiskNeeds-Responsivity (RNR) Simulation Tool,” Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence, 2011,
https://www.gmuace.org/research_rnr.html.

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35

Data-driven resource allocation
Currently, the BOP’s Central Office decides to expand or reduce national programs based on “identified
demand” within the population. The BOP reports that mental health, drug abuse, and programs to treat
people convicted of sex offenses have all been expanded over the past three to five years. However,
BOP program waitlists indicate there is still a shortage of slots to meet population needs. For example,
at the end of FY 2014, more than 12,300 people systemwide were awaiting drug abuse treatment.
The BOP should use aggregate risk and needs assessment data to identify how its program offerings
should grow. Using findings from the systemwide gap analysis recommended above, the BOP should
develop a plan with resource requirements to establish, expand, and reallocate programming as needed
to meet the identified needs of its population. Doing so will ensure scarce funds are used effectively and
efficiently to improve public safety outcomes.

Educational and occupational program expansion
Lengthy waitlists indicate that BOP needs to immediately expand occupational training and educational
programs. Research shows that such programs hold significant promise to reduce recidivism and
improve individual outcomes following release, making their expansion all the more urgent. Research
suggests that earning a working wage as a component of prison industry participation may enhance
87

such programs’ effectiveness in reducing recidivism and improving employment outcomes. To
increase the availability of occupational training opportunities, the Task Force also recommends that
Congress expand the Federal Prison Industry’s (FPI) authority, including increasing reliance on FPI
products by federal agencies.

Ensure conditions of confinement are conducive to rehabilitation
The BOP should require all staff interacting with incarcerated people to complete training in effective
communication and problem solving as a core component of orientation and in-service training. The
Task Force also recommends that the BOP use segregated housing as a punitive measure only in
extraordinary circumstances and for no longer than necessary. In addition, the BOP should ensure that
all housing and security procedures are responsive to the specific needs of its diverse population.
Finally, the BOP should develop appropriate and nonrestrictive protective housing options and security
procedures for individuals at risk of harm within the general prison population.

Staff training
As part of their normal duties, correctional staff routinely observe and respond to a range of behaviors
inside prison. Research shows that positive relationships with correctional staff may enhance the
88

positive effect of participation in programming aimed at reducing risk. Studies show that one’s
motivation to change can be enhanced through positive interactions with staff, and that correctional
staff can promote behavioral change by rewarding prosocial conduct.

36

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Recognizing this research, correctional agencies in many states have strengthened risk reduction
efforts by investing in staff training on effective communication, problem solving, and the appropriate
90

use of incentives. For example, Wisconsin, Oregon, and South Dakota all ensure correctional staff are
trained in productive interaction with the incarcerated population. While the BOP has similarly
provided some staff training involving evidence-based practice in corrections, it should review and
expand its offerings to include curricula that improve staff skills in working and interacting with
individuals in their custody. Training should be provided with frontline and supervisory staff, case
managers, and all program personnel.
Drawing from lessons garnered through efforts to transform the culture of policing, the BOP should
also examine how consistently corrections officers and staff comport themselves in a procedurally just
91

manner. This requires a foundational shift to ensure that the culture within the BOP supports whistle
blowers and rewards performance based on reduced use of force.

Segregated housing
As of November 2013, approximately five percent of the federal prison population was held in some
xx

form of segregated housing. The BOP uses segregated housing for various reasons. Segregation may
be employed as a punitive measure, in response to individual requests for protection from the general
population, for confining those in holdover status, and to house those pending classification or
reclassification. The level of interaction with other incarcerated individuals and staff varies across types
of segregated housing and facilities (see box 9).

92

Studies have repeatedly found that solitary confinement can cause severe psychiatric harm,
producing symptoms that include anxiety, panic, paranoia, and self-harming thinking and behavior.

93

Moreover, those in segregated housing are unable to receive many resources provided to the broader
prison population. An independent review of the BOP’s segregated housing practices and procedures,
conducted by the CNA Institute for Public Research, found that placement restricts individuals from
94

participating in reentry preparedness programming. The BOP does not routinely track individuals’
movement in and out of segregated housing, including releases directly from segregation to the
community and transfers back to the general population shortly before release. It is thus not possible to
discern the exact number of people who reenter society without adequate reentry preparation as a
result of segregated housing placement.

95

xx

The BOP refers to segregated housing as “restricted housing,” which includes special housing units, special
management units, and its administrative maximum security facility. The percentage of the overall BOP population
housed in segregation is consistent with the proportion of individuals housed in segregation across the state prison
population. A 2002 survey by Austin and McGinnis (2004) found that on average, five percent of the state prison
population was held in some form of segregation at any given time.

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37

BOX 9

Special Management Units at the BOP
The BOP’s special management units house individuals placed in segregated housing for disciplinary
reasons. The units require each individual to pass through four levels of segregation, which are
differentiated by conditions of confinement and length of stay. Level 1 requires a minimum stay of four
months, during which time interaction with other incarcerated individuals is minimal and individuals are
placed in either single- or double-bunked cells. Level 2 operates similarly, with most programming, if
delivered, provided within the cell. For both levels, each facility warden determines which individuals
can participate in group activities. Levels 3 and 4 become less restrictive and allow more open
interaction with other individuals. Completion of all special management unit levels is expected to occur
within 18 to 24 months, absent further behavioral issues. A review of the BOP’s segregated housing
policy has found that a large portion of the segregated population is housed in double-occupancy cells.
In 2014, 1,376 individuals were held in disciplinary segregation at the BOP.
Source: McGinnis et al. 2014.

Given both the documented harms of some forms of segregated housing and the necessary
limitations it places on reentry preparation, the Task Force recommends that the BOP use segregated
housing as a disciplinary measure strictly when a person poses a safety risk to others and only in
extraordinary circumstances. The Task Force also recommends that the duration of placement be
limited to the shortest length of stay necessary to ensure the safety and security of those housed in and
working at the facility. Even for those housed in segregation due to disciplinary infractions, strong
consideration should be given to rehabilitation and reentry preparation throughout the duration of
their stay. In the exceptional cases that require segregated housing, the BOP should ensure individuals
are transferred out of segregation in the months just before release, a period critical to reentry
preparation. The Task Force recognizes that any successful effort to reduce the use of restrictive
housing requires buy-in and support from the union. The union’s contract requires their sign-off on any
major change in policy; it is therefore critical that the BOP leadership collaborate with the union on any
and all changes to housing policies to ensure that safety and security are not compromised.

Needs-based housing options
Special populations within the BOP have a range of needs that should be addressed to maintain humane
and rehabilitative conditions of confinement. For example, aging individuals in federal prison frequently
have increased medical needs and often require accommodations such as lower bunks and handicapaccessible cells, but current overcrowding in the BOP means that not all people who need such
96

accommodations receive them. In addition, an audit of the BOP’s segregated housing units found that
a significant number of individuals housed in segregation should instead be housed in a comprehensive
mental health program supervised by psychiatric staff able to attend to their treatment needs.

97

Further, the BOP’s housing and security procedures should proactively support the safety of special
populations in its custody. For example, LGBTQ individuals, who are at a higher risk of sexual assault

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and victimization while incarcerated, should receive housing and services that keep them safe.

98

However, the Prison Rape Elimination Act Commission (PREA) found that many correctional facilities
rely primarily on protective custody and even solitary confinement as the default method to protect
individuals from harm.

99

These examples by no means represent all the needs of special populations inside federal prisons.
The BOP should ensure that safe, appropriate housing options and adequate accommodations are
available for every individual within its facilities, including women; the elderly; the infirmed; those with
mental health issues; LGBTQ individuals; persons with medical, mental, or physical impairments; and all
others with needs or personal factors impacting the rehabilitation process.

Protective custody
The Task Force acknowledges that protective custody may occasionally be necessary to ensure the
safety of individuals housed in federal prison facilities. Occasions include instances when individuals
personally request protective custody placement and cases when staff deem that an individual needs
protective custody to ensure his or her personal safety. The BOP currently uses segregated housing for
individuals under protective custody. An independent audit of the BOP’s segregated housing found that
individuals housed in protective custody do not have access to the same programs and privileges as
individuals in the general population.

100

Given the security concerns of individuals within its population,

the BOP should develop nonpunitive housing options and security procedures that enable those held in
protective custody to receive all the programs and privileges available to the general population.
Further, the Task Force shares the PREA Commission’s belief that the use of segregated housing should
be a last resort and an interim measure only, and all efforts should be made to keep all individuals safe
from harm within the general population.

101

Accomplishing this change is critical to the BOP’s goal of

promoting public safety by effectively preparing individuals for reentry.

The harm of incarceration is not only felt by victims and the re-incarcerated, but by
their families, communities, and indeed the entire country.
Glenn E. Martin, President and Founder of JustLeadershipUSA, March 11, 2015

Develop greater opportunities for family engagement
The Task Force calls upon the BOP to house individuals as close to home as possible, establish a
visitation and family affairs office to oversee facility-level visitation procedures, expand video
conferencing and other visitation programs, and enhance support to families of people in federal prison.
Family visitation is essential to support successful reentry and ensure conditions of confinement
are humane. Studies considering the impact of family visitation on postrelease outcomes have found
that both general and private family visitation reduced recidivism.

102

Research also indicates that close

family relationships may improve a person’s ability to find and keep jobs after leaving prison and

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39

returning home.

103

Further, minimizing barriers to family visitation is one of the few ways federal

corrections officials can ease the harm experienced by the families of people in prison.
The size and scale of the federal corrections system means that many family members cannot afford
to travel the long distances necessary to visit loved ones in federal prison. Research shows that one of
the greatest challenges for those striving to stay connected with an incarcerated relative or spouse is
the distance between prison and home.

104

Given the far-flung nature of the federal system, the BOP’s

challenge in trying to house individuals near their homes is far greater than that faced by the states. The
BOP’s designation policy is to attempt to assign individuals to facilities within 500 miles of their release
locations, a decision that can also be influenced by an individual’s programming needs or security risk
classification.

105

As shown in figure 10, BOP data indicate that many people are incarcerated far from

home, with more than 27 percent of the federal prison population confined more than 500 miles away.
To its credit, the BOP has taken steps to expand and enhance family contact and visitation in the
past few years. These efforts include exploring alternative visitation methods such as video
conferencing and creating pilot programs that enrich family visitation opportunities at certain facilities.
But those currently incarcerated in BOP prisons, as well as those who served time there in the past, told
the Task Force that maintaining family contact was a consistent challenge during their time in prison.
Barriers included visitation hours that were modified or restricted without adequate notice or
explanation; visitation guidelines that varied across facilities, and even within facilities over time; and
visitation privileges that were perceived to be restricted as a disciplinary measure.

FIGURE 10

About half of the BOP population is housed more than 250 miles from home

> 500 miles
27%

< 100 miles
19%

100–249 miles
29%
250–500 miles
25%

Source: Task Force staff analysis of BOP FY 2014 data.
Note: Excludes non-US citizens and individuals whose previous residence was listed as Alaska, Hawaii, or a US territory.

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The BOP should develop greater opportunities for family engagement by housing individuals as
close to home as possible. One strategy for doing so is to contract with state facilities when no
appropriate federal facility is located within reasonable proximity. The BOP should also establish a
central family affairs and visitation office to oversee prison visitation procedures in the interests of
facilitating family visits while ensuring security is not compromised, expand video conferencing and
programs designed to enhance the bonds between incarcerated parents and their children, and increase
other forms of support for families of those in prison.

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41

Recommendation 3: Incentivize Participation in
Risk-Reduction Programming
Contrary to what many Americans may believe, the vast majority of people in federal prison will
ultimately be released to reenter society, either in the United States or in their home countries. Given
that reality, it is imperative as a matter of public safety that those confined in correctional facilities
participate in programs and treatment that promote rehabilitation. If the incarcerated exist in a state of
perpetual idleness, prison can become a reliable incubator for future crime. But if they engage in
activities that address the underlying causes of their offending, it improves the odds that they will be
law-abiding, productive citizens upon release.
Research makes a strong case for the public safety benefits of meaningful opportunities for
rehabilitation and personal growth during incarceration. Studies also demonstrate that effective
correctional interventions aimed at behavioral change require strong incentives and positive
reinforcement.

106

Moreover, data plainly illustrate the degree to which people “age out of crime,”

suggesting that some share of incarcerated persons with extremely long sentences may be suitable
candidates for sentence reduction.

107

The Task Force recommends the following actions to incentivize and reward participation in
treatment and programs:


Improve public safety by incentivizing high- and medium-risk individuals to participate in
risk-reduction programming



Establish a Second Look provision to ensure judicious use of incarceration and encourage
rehabilitation

Background
Many studies show that incentives are a powerful tool to enhance individual motivation in completing
treatment, meeting case plan goals, and engaging in positive behavioral change.

108

Consistent with this

literature on core correctional practices, state penal systems are increasingly using earned-time credits
to incentivize program participation, promote good behavior to ensure both correctional officers and
those incarcerated are safe, and provide opportunities to review and reduce sentence lengths in light of
rehabilitation in prison.

109

Policymakers in more than 38 states have realized cost savings by expanding

earned time credits for individuals who participate in programs shown to reduce their risk of
committing new crimes upon release.

110

The federal corrections system lacks such systemwide mechanisms to encourage rehabilitation and
prepare people for successful return to the community. Indeed, unlike most state systems, in the federal
system the sentence imposed largely determines the length of stay for those subject to a term of incarceration. As explained earlier, there is no parole in the federal system, and few options are available to
modify or reduce the prison term of an individual’s sentence following its imposition, especially in light

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RECOMMENDATION 3: INCENTIVIZE PARTICIPATION IN RISK-REDUCTION PROGRAMS

of program participation. Without these options, those who are incarcerated can be left with little hope
and scant motivation to engage in self-improvement activities during their term of incarceration.
The BOP offers a number of rigorous, evidence-based programs intended to reduce recidivism,
enhance educational attainment, improve employment readiness, and foster positive change that will
help individuals return home as law-abiding citizens. Despite the promise of such programs to increase
public safety and reduce the social and fiscal costs associated with recidivism, only one—the Residential
Drug Abuse Program—provides participants earned time off their prison terms. The history of RDAP
vividly demonstrates the value of earned time incentives to encourage program participation.
The BOP’s intensive drug treatment program, RDAP was underused until an earned-time incentive
was created as part of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The Act provided the
BOP with authority to reduce time served by up to 12 months for a subset of program completers,
making RDAP one of the BOP’s most popular programs (with one of the highest completion rates). This
legislation has allowed the BOP to send more citizens home better equipped to succeed in the
community and, through the earned-time sentence reductions, has freed up scarce prison beds. And, for
those fortunate enough to be eligible for such earned time credit, RDAP has offered a degree of muchneeded hope.

It is my belief that if incentives were given for completion of programs like
is done in the RDAP program, inmates would better respond to job
training and educational opportunities and would be more likely
to succeed when released to their home communities.
Donald Taylor, Youth Specialist, Missouri Division of Youth Services’ Girardot Center for Youth
Formerly incarcerated in the Bureau of Prisons
March 11, 2015

Hope was a prominent thread throughout this Task Force’s fact finding as a key factor in successful
treatment and rehabilitation. In spoken testimony, written submissions, roundtable sessions, and oneon-one meetings, many stakeholders agreed that hope sustains individuals throughout incarceration
and encourages them to pursue opportunities to prepare for release. Both currently and formerly
incarcerated individuals reported that the hope of reuniting with the family they left behind drove them
to seek treatment in prison and prepare for the challenges of returning home.
Even more striking than reports on the importance of hope were stories of its absence. In
September 2015, the Task Force held a series of meetings with individuals currently incarcerated in
federal prison. Most of those involved in the discussions were serving lengthy sentences, with many in
excess of 15 years and some sentenced to life. They asked that the Task Force seriously consider
opportunities to return hope to people serving long sentences without opportunity for early release
consideration. Moreover, during the Task Force’s visit to the US Penitentiary Atlanta, members
observed several fragile, elderly, and infirmed people and others in very poor health. The Task Force

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43

learned of unsuccessful petitions for compassionate release and found that many of the men were
serving time for drug sentences based on crimes committed literally decades ago.

Recommendations
Numerous stakeholders, BOP employees, and both currently and formerly incarcerated individuals
agree that program participation should be incentivized through the expansion of earned time credits.
Such credits have been used to encourage program participation in both state systems and the federal
prison population.

111

Recognizing the challenges of encouraging program participation, the BOP has

pressed Congress to authorize earned time incentives to individuals who successfully participate in
programs that reduce recidivism. The Task Force has two key recommendations that will help achieve
these important goals.

Improve public safety by incentivizing high- and medium-risk individuals to
participate in risk-reduction programming
The Task Force recommends that Congress authorize individuals not serving life sentences to earn up
to 20 percent off time served by complying with an individualized case plan. Credits shall become
available upon successful completion of programs specified by the case plan. The Task Force also
recommends that the BOP allow all individuals, including those serving life sentences, to be eligible for
privileges other than earned time. Finally, the Task Force asks that Congress expand the eligibility for
the one-year RDAP credit to include all individuals with a documented substance abuse problem who
can fulfill the RDAP program requirements (including the community treatment phase), except those
with life sentences.

xxi

Earned time credit
In addition to holding individuals who commit crimes accountable, the federal prison system should
ensure that people returning home from prison are rehabilitated. These two goals of corrections could
be better balanced than under the current system. Greater incentives for participating in rehabilitative
programming do not undermine accountability and can promote public safety when carried out
effectively. Moreover, many evidence-based programs contain core components that involve holding
individuals accountable for their actions while addressing their risk factors for future recidivism.
Thus, Congress should create a new earned time credit for program participation, based on the
individualized risk and needs assessments and case plans discussed in the prior chapter. High-risk
individuals would receive the credits only by completing intensive, evidence-based programs pursuant
to their case plans, provided they also exhibit good conduct. Lower-risk individuals would have more
latitude to engage in different activities that qualify for the credits, also conditional upon consistent
xxi

Noncitizens are ineligible to receive the credit because they cannot participate in the community treatment
phase of RDAP.

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good conduct. All would be eligible to earn up to 20 percent off time served. This reform would be
applied prospectively. Those already in prison would be eligible to earn credit moving forward, but
would not be able to earn credit for program participation they have already completed.

xxii

As described in the previous chapter, assessments would identify individuals’ criminogenic needs,
such as substance abuse or criminal thinking, and help case managers develop individualized case plans
to guide rehabilitative programming in prison. People identified as having a heightened risk of
recidivism with more extensive criminogenic needs, who follow their case plan by completing intensive,
evidence-based programming—such as cognitive behavior therapy, other mental health programming,
drug treatment, and intensive educational or vocational classes—could earn up to a 20 percent reduction in time served. All high- or medium-risk individuals not serving life sentences should be eligible for
these incentives, regardless of their instant offense or criminal history. It is all the more important for
higher-risk individuals to be incentivized to participate in intensive programming, as they are in greatest
need and pose the gravest threat to public safety if they are not rehabilitated before release.
In many cases, a person’s risk and needs assessment may indicate lower risk and little need for
intensive programs during incarceration. This should not preclude a person from engaging in selfimprovement activities and refraining from idleness, which can precipitate misconduct. Low-risk
individuals should still be eligible for an earned time credit through ongoing engagement in productive
activities; they should not be required to spend a greater proportion of their sentence behind bars due
to their lower risk for committing crime in the future. Individualized case plans will help outline
productive activities. Skill-building, ongoing education, vocational training (including that designed to
keep participants current with technological advances on the outside), and faith-based programming
can help all individuals use their time behind bars productively and ease the challenges of reentry upon
release.

Earned privileges for all individuals
As discussed earlier in this chapter, the use of incentives and rewards to motivate people to change is a
key evidence-based principle. In addition to earned time credits, the ability to earn institutional
privileges represents another mechanism to incentivize compliance with prison rules, thereby
increasing safety for both staff and the incarcerated. For those ineligible or unable to earn time off for
program participation, such as those serving life sentences, institutional rewards and privileges provide
hope vital to sustaining people throughout their period of incarceration. Such incentives also create a
mechanism through which they can better themselves and the quality of their incarceration.
Institutional incentives and rewards can include a range of privileges, such as additional recreation
time, increased visitation or telephone time, access to specialty commissary items, greater freedom of
movement, service as a peer mentor or co-facilitator for a class, reduction in security classification,
transfer to another facility, or even the ability to select a cellmate. In some cases, such benefits can
motivate those placed in administrative or punitive segregation because of a violation or misconduct. In
xxii

It is imperative that these earned time credits be truly earned. These credits are designed primarily to encourage
people at a high risk of recidivism and with great criminogenic needs to participate in evidence-based programming.
Without systematic mechanisms for capturing individual risk level and programming needs, the earned time credit
would not accomplish its intended goal of promoting public safety.

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45

these instances, institutional rewards can encourage individuals to earn their way out of segregation
with good behavior.
The BOP already uses incentives for those who comply with their educational requirements,
allowing them to become eligible for occupational training programs and FPI. In addition, those who do
not violate prison rules and who maintain good conduct can have their security levels reduced. The BOP
reported that in FY 2014, 45 percent of those initially classified as high risk had their security levels
reduced through this process, while 21 percent of those initially classified as medium risk had their
security levels reduced.

112

The Task Force recommends the expansion of institutional privileges for those who demonstrate
good conduct within the facility, especially for those ineligible for good conduct and earned time.
Accomplishing this change will likely require the BOP to develop a more extensive list of privileges that
can be earned, establish and communicate that information to staff and those incarcerated, and develop
a process for documentation.

RDAP expansion
One evidence-based program already in the BOP is the Residential Drug Abuse Program. RDAP is
currently the only program at the BOP incentivized through earned time, but Congress and the BOP
have restricted those who have committed a violent offense or have histories of violence from
benefitting from this incentive. This exclusion ignores the reality that those with the greatest needs
should be incentivized to participate, regardless of their criminal histories. All individuals should be
strongly incentivized to participate in programming proven to address their individual needs, regardless
of the nature of their criminal histories. As such, the Task Force recommends that earned time credits
for RDAP and the incentives described above be made available to all people in federal prison who are
able to complete the intensive program, regardless of crimes of conviction or criminal histories.

Establish a Second Look provision to ensure judicious use of incarceration and
encourage rehabilitation
The Task Force recommends that Congress establish a Second Look provision that would permit anyone
who has served more than 15 years to apply for resentencing before a judicial decisionmaker. One judge
in each circuit would be designated to hear petitions for review. Judges would review and assess
whether a sentence should be modified based on current circumstances and the purposes of sentencing.
The USSC would develop guidelines for judges responsible for conducting Second Look reviews and
modifying sentences.
Sentences in the federal prison system are generally long and, due to the abolition of parole in 1984,
length of stay is often measured in decades. In 2014, federal courts handed down 1,640 sentences of 20
years or longer. As of 2014, 7,394 people had been in prison for more than 15 years and 2,361 people
had served more than 20 years.
The abolition of parole removed any mechanism by which these long sentences could be
reconsidered. Determinate sentencing is largely inflexible by definition. But the Task Force has

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concluded that the long sentences common in the federal system, coupled with limited options for
review, have resulted in lengths of stay that are frequently unjustifiable under the current
circumstances. Moreover, these inflexibly lengthy sentences diminish hope for the future and remove
any incentive for people in prison to transform their lives.
Task Force members have observed that a person can change after 10 or 20 years in prison. Many
people in prison take advantage of programming and other resources to address the root causes of their
criminal offending. The Task Force heard several compelling stories illustrating such personal
transformation, yet many people who underwent this change were required to remain in prison for
years or decades longer.
This reality is particularly troubling given research that convincingly shows crime is a young
person’s endeavor. The “age-crime” curve shows that the likelihood of committing offenses in the future
drops sharply beginning at age 40. After spending more than a decade in prison, many aging, even onceviolent, individuals represent little threat to public safety. For this group of people, any societal benefit
of incarceration has long since been achieved.

113

In addition to individual change, society can evolve in its collective thinking about sentencing and
length of stay for certain offenses. Take crack cocaine crimes, for example. In the 1980s, punitive
mandatory minimum penalties and aggressive prosecution of crack cocaine offenses, including
possession, reflected a societal belief that tough sentencing was the best solution for curbing this
nascent drug problem. However, the public’s attitude toward crack cocaine has changed dramatically,
and Congress has rolled back or reduced the applicability of many of these laws.
Yet the federal system offers little opportunity to review an individual sentence to assess whether it
still meets the core goals of sentencing in light of individual or societal change. While the BOP has the
authority to request a reduction in time served for “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” this
mechanism is rarely used

xxiii

and may not support larger-scale reviews of many individuals’ cases. The

President has commuted the sentences of 184 people during his presidency, the vast majority of whom
had their sentences reduced since the launch of his Administration’s clemency initiative in 2014.

114

Dozens of those granted relief through this initiative were aided by pro bono lawyers organized by the
Clemency Project 2014, a nongovernmental group created to support the petitions of people who meet
the eligibility criteria for the initiative. This is a promising step, but it should not be the only method for
reviewing lengthy federal sentences. Many people who are currently federally incarcerated may not
qualify for this program, despite having served long terms.

xxiv

And as the clemency initiative exists by

the President’s discretion, future Administrations could discontinue it. The Task Force recommends
that the Administration’s clemency initiative remain in place and that the process be examined to
identify how cases can be reviewed more expeditiously.

xxiii

In FY 2015, the BOP Director approved 106 requests for compassionate release, 99 of which led to reductions
in sentences and release.
xxiv

The Administration’s initiative prioritizes the applications of people who have served at least 10 years of their
sentence, committed nonviolent and low-level offenses, have no significant criminal history and no history of
violence, have shown good conduct while in prison, and would have received a lower sentence had they been
convicted of the same offense today.

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47

The Task Force believes the federal system needs a mechanism by which exceptionally long
sentences can receive a systematic review that is balanced with the principles of determinate
sentencing. Inspired by the work of the American Law Institute,

xxv

the Task Force advises Congress to

adopt a Second Look mechanism by which people who have been imprisoned at least 15 years may
apply to a judicial panel for resentencing. Under this policy, everyone in federal prison who has served
this minimum would be eligible to petition for review. After first eligibility, an individual would have the
right to apply again at regular intervals of no less than five years. The review process would be adversarial and would include a prosecutor or a government representative and a counsel for the petitioner.
This approach balances flexibility with the core goals of determinate sentencing. A period any
shorter than 15 years runs the risk of introducing too much indeterminacy into the federal system,
especially in light of other Task Force recommendations to incentivize program participation. The
Second Look approach would also ensure that any system of review is not too burdensome on the court
system. By definition, this review would be limited to extraordinarily long sentences, which present the
most compelling rationale for review.
In light of the decision’s gravity, the Task Force recommends that at least one judge in each circuit
be designated to hear petitions for review. Following an initial judicial gatekeeper review to ensure the
petitioner has followed prison rules and regulations, participated in programming, complied with his or
her case plan, and is not an obvious threat to public safety, the case would move on to a full judicial
review. The legal standard for Second Look would be a full resentencing. This process would not serve
to review the original sentence for error. Instead, its intent would be to assess whether, in light of
current circumstances, the purposes of sentencing as outlined in USC 18 § 3553(a) would be better
served by modifying the sentence. As part of their review, judges would not be required to adhere to
existing mandatory minimum sentences. However, it is expected that they will consult the statutory
ranges in determining the seriousness of the original criminal activity, which may well inform the
decision to revise the sentence. Factors to consider would also include whether the individual has
demonstrated positive change while in prison, whether the release of the individual would pose too
great a risk to public safety, and how societal norms concerning the underlying offense have changed
with time. In addition, any known victims associated with the offense of conviction should be invited to
submit written testimony as part of the decisionmaking process.
The Task Force recommends that the judicial decisionmaker be granted discretion to modify any
element of the sentence, except the authority to make it more severe. The panel may choose to
terminate the prison term at review, shorten the prison term to an earlier future release date, add a
period of community supervision, or attach certain conditions of supervision.
The Task Force believes that a Second Look provision introduces an appropriate amount of
flexibility into a determinate system while balancing the goals of the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act.
Second Look would be restricted to individuals serving exceptionally long sentences. At the end of FY
xxv

The American Law Institute (2011) recently adopted changes to the Model Penal Code that would support a
Second Look provision as an alternative to parole in determinate sentencing systems. The Task Force studied
discussion drafts from the proceedings of the Model Penal Code committee, which comprised an esteemed panel of
judges, prosecutors, defenders, and other legal scholars representing a range of experiences. Their deliberations
were instructive in helping the Task Force develop its own recommendation for a Second Look review system.

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RECOMMENDATION 3: INCENTIVIZE PARTICIPATION IN RISK-REDUCTION PROGRAMS

2014, less than 4 percent of the BOP population had served 15 years or more. If Congress adopts the
reforms to mandatory minimums recommended by the Task Force, the number of sentences exceeding
15 years would decline dramatically.
The Task Force considered that resentencing might strain the federal court system. Limited
application of the Second Look provision, coupled with a gatekeeper function (whereby unworthy cases
would be reviewed and filtered from consideration) would reduce the burden. In addition, the Task
Force also believes that creating separate judicial positions to handle this task would ensure that any
reviews would not overload the caseloads of current federal district court judges.

US Sentencing Commission Guidelines
Following enactment of the Second Look provision, the USSC should develop guidelines for judges
responsible for conducting reviews and modifying sentences. The USSC would also be responsible for
tracking and reporting use of the new provision.

RECOMMENDATION 3: INCENTIVIZE PARTICIPATION IN RISK-REDUCTION PROGRAMS

49

Recommendation 4: Ensure Successful
Reintegration by Using Evidence-Based
Practices in Supervision and Support
Preparing people for law-abiding lives after incarceration is an important correctional function. It
requires strong coordination across agencies and a commitment to evidence-based practices, in both
prison programs and community supervision. Earlier chapters focused on improving reentry planning
inside prison by targeting interventions to those at the highest risk of reoffending and providing
incentives for participation in risk-reduction programs.
This chapter focuses on ensuring those practices are carried from BOP facilities into the
community, during BOP prerelease custody (i.e., the transition to a federal halfway house or home
confinement) and during the subsequent period of supervised release. Providing those exiting prison
with the tools, resources, and services necessary to succeed following BOP confinement helps stop the
cycle of recidivism, thus improving public safety. Reentry support is most critical in the first days, weeks,
and months immediately following release,

115

when the risk of recidivism is highest. Studies have found

that a continuum of care is crucial to maintaining gains from prison-based treatment.

116

Toward this end, the Task Force has three recommendations:


Conduct a comprehensive assessment of BOP procedures and practices surrounding
prerelease custody, particularly Residential Reentry Centers (RRCs)



Improve the transition of individuals transferring from BOP facilities to community agencies
to ensure a safe and seamless reintegration



Strengthen supervised release and expand use of early termination for successful individuals

Background
Preparing people for reentry into society is a daunting task for the federal corrections system; in 2014
alone, the BOP released more than 40,000 American citizens back to communities across the United
States (see box 10).

xxvi

Most people released from the BOP spend the final portion of their prison terms

in “prerelease custody,” which may involve a stay in a halfway house (an RRC), home confinement, or a
combination of both. By law, prerelease custody cannot exceed one year, with the home confinement
portion limited to six months or ten percent of the prison term, whichever is less. This prerelease period
can act as a bridge between time in BOP facilities and the term of community supervision that follows.
That final phase of supervised release is provided by the US Probation and Pretrial Services (US
Probation), a part of the federal judicial branch.

xxvi

An additional share of those released during FY 2014 had detainers and were turned over to Immigration and
Customs Enforcement for deportation.

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RECOMMENDATION 4: ENSURE SUCCESSFUL REINTEGRATION

BOX 10

Transition-Focused Reentry Efforts
Several national initiatives have been launched to address the challenges people face following
incarceration and to improve their transition to free society. The National Institute of Corrections’
Transition from Prison to Community Initiative, the Prisoner Reentry Initiative, and the Second Chance
Act all emphasize the need for continuing transition support following incarceration. These efforts
share a common focus:





Improving institutional assessment, case management, and evidence-based programming to
address identified risk and needs
Developing strong, effective collaborations within correctional facilities (across functional
areas of security, programming, and operations) and with outside stakeholders, including
service providers and community supervision agencies, to assure a seamless transition
Ensuring that all people transitioning out of prison are equipped with basic resources necessary
to succeed in the community

Sources: James 2015; Jannetta et al. 2012.

There is no unified case management system involving the BOP, the RRCs, and US Probation.
Inconsistent data-sharing practices further inhibit the transfer of critical information that can facilitate
a successful return to the community. Complicating matters, RRCs are operated by contractors and not
by the BOP itself. More than 200 RRCs operate nationwide. Moreover, there are 122 federal prisons
and 94 judicial districts, which manage federal probation and often differ in their approach to reentry
preparation. People leaving a BOP facility in one state or judicial district may be transferred to an RRC
in another state or judicial district, and ultimately return home in yet a third location.
While these challenges loom large in the federal system, steps can be taken to strengthen reentry
planning and community supervision. Fortunately, the federal government can follow the experience of
the states and an extensive body of reentry research to understand how to improve coordination and
outcomes. Among other findings, the research shows that increasing the use of evidence-based
practices in supervision will improve public safety, reduce costly returns to prison, and lead to a host of
other improved outcomes.

117

Perhaps most important, states have been reforming their community supervision systems for
years and offer lessons on how to approach such an undertaking. While the task is complicated, state
experience shows that focusing on recidivism reduction can lead to powerful results.

118

While the

federal system differs from the states, best practices in supervision work in both settings. Best practices
include concentrating on those at the highest risk to reoffend, targeting criminogenic needs, tailoring
conditions of supervision, balancing surveillance with treatment, and incorporating rewards and
incentives.

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51

Recommendations
The federal corrections system has recently made great strides toward adopting these best practices.
But additional improvements can be made to better prepare people in prison for a smooth transition
home, hold them accountable on supervision, and provide them with the tools and services they need to
succeed. The recommendations below highlight three areas for additional improvement: focusing RRC
resources on those at the highest risk to reoffend, improving the handoff from BOP custody to RRCs
and US Probation, and strengthening supervision by US Probation for those on supervised release.

Conduct a comprehensive assessment of BOP procedures and practices surrounding
prerelease custody, particularly RRCs
Research has shown that halfway houses can ease the transition from prison and reduce the likelihood
of recidivism for high-risk individuals. When grounded in evidence-based practice, this reentry
intervention can improve public safety while also reducing corrections spending. But under certain
circumstances, stays at halfway houses can be ineffective or even harmful to a person’s prospects for
successful reentry. Indeed, studies suggest that halfway houses can have a negative effect on recidivism
for low-risk individuals.

120

Given that evidence, it is critical that placement in halfway houses is based on the results of a
validated risk and needs assessment and that this scarce, costly resource is focused on high-risk
individuals. Low-risk individuals are better suited for home confinement or other community-based
interventions. To maximize their effectiveness, halfway houses should also tailor conditions of
supervision to individual needs and balance surveillance with treatment and services. These principles
are not common in the operation of all federal halfway houses today.

All too often, the organizations operating RRCs and similar programs are seen as
vendors, not as partners in the provision of treatment services designed to turn lives
around as well as increase public safety.
Phil Nunes, President of the International Community Corrections Association
and Chief Programs Officer of Alvis, Inc., March 11, 2015

RRCs play a central role in the federal corrections system’s prison transition strategy; the vast
majority of individuals not deported upon release will be sent to one. For the 12 months ending in
March 2015, 78 percent of US citizens leaving BOP facilities were transferred to an RRC or home
confinement. Of those who had completed their sentences, the average time on prerelease custody
(RRC and/or home confinement) was about 4.5 months.

xxvii

Almost eight percent of those transferred

xxvii

Thirty-one percent of individuals spent fewer than 90 days; 54 percent spent between 91 and 180 days, and 15
percent spent more than 181 days.

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RECOMMENDATION 4: ENSURE SUCCESSFUL REINTEGRATION

went directly into home confinement.

121

People in these private facilities or in home confinement

remain under custody of the BOP but are usually supervised by contract providers. Individuals on home
confinement through a RRC may be monitored through electronic monitoring devices or subject to daily
phone contacts and periodic personal contact requirements. Under a memorandum of understanding
between the BOP and US Probation, probation officers supervise some people on home confinement,
an arrangement allowing individuals to bypass a RRC altogether or stay only briefly before home
confinement. Supervision under this federal location-monitoring program is more cost effective than
supervision by a RRC.
The Task Force has heard from many sources, including the BOP, that the RRCs have inadequate
capacity. Limited capacity has been particularly acute in recent months, as the BOP increased transfers
in preparation for the November 2015 early release of more than 6,000 people under the retroactive
application of Drugs Minus Two. If the Task Force recommendations are adopted, the need for RRC
placements will grow as the BOP population declines, intensifying the capacity shortage.
Given the growing demand, it is imperative that RRCs house people most likely to benefit from the
setting and that the centers employ strategies proven to reduce recidivism. Unfortunately, that is not
the case today, and the Task Force heard criticism about the current value of RRC placements from
various sources. Federal judges, probation officers, and former residents of RRCs all cited problems
with ineffective services and variable quality. The Task Force also heard that incentives are not always
effectively aligned between the interests of halfway house residents and RRC operators. For example,
because RRCs receive a portion of residents’ wages, they sometimes pressure individuals to accept any
job rather than find one with better long-term prospects, making a resident’s pathway to independence
more challenging.
While such shortcomings cannot be verified or resolved without an empirical risk and needs
assessment and recidivism analysis, these reports highlight RRCs’ weakness at targeting criminogenic
needs and using other evidence-based practices. Without a risk and needs assessment to determine
RRC placement and to tailor conditions, the BOP cannot ensure the appropriate people are being placed
in RRCs, nor can it determine whether contractors are providing adequate services. Moreover, because
RRC contracts are generally compliance-based, not performance-based, RRCs are not evaluated
according to reentry outcomes for the individuals they house.
To make BOP policy consistent with evidence-based practice, the BOP’s Performance,
Accountability, and Oversight Board (see next chapter) should assess procedures and practices for the
use of RRCs and other prerelease custody options. The review should provide findings and
recommendations regarding:


Use of RRC bed space for medium- and high-risk and needs clients



Implementation of performance-based contracts for RRCs, to emphasize programming,
treatment, and recidivism reduction



Appropriate number and location of RRC beds to meet the needs of those who could benefit
from an RRC

RECOMMENDATION 4: ENSURE SUCCESSFUL REINTEGRATION

53



Alternatives to RRC placement for low-risk individuals, including home confinement and day
reporting centers



Implications of payment requirements for persons housed in RRCs and those subject to home
confinement

Improve the transition of individuals transferring from BOP facilities to community
agencies to ensure a safe and seamless reintegration
For reentry to be successful, agencies should coordinate and collaborate in supporting and supervising
individuals returning to communities following incarceration. At a minimum, a seamless transition
requires sharing critical information across agencies, including assessment and evaluation information,
details about program participation and performance, proof of program and vocational completion,
medical and mental health status, and aftercare information. Victim considerations should be addressed
as well, including notifying victims when an individual changes location upon release and
communicating plans to secure court-ordered restitution.
As previously noted, no unified, cross-agency assessment or case management system at the
federal level follows an individual from the pretrial phase, through incarceration, to an RRC, and
eventually onto supervised release. Also lacking is any consistent practice governing information
sharing among agencies. RRC operators noted, for example, that BOP case managers do not always
provide timely and accurate information. Moreover, they do not follow a consistent protocol for writing
up case plans, sometimes creating difficulties for RRC staff in interpreting the information provided. All
relevant information should be shared promptly and reliably for each returning citizen. Fortunately,
efforts are under way to improve data sharing between the BOP and US Probation. US Probation has
recently gained access to the BOP’s information system, SENTRY, and is working to understand the
system and link it to Probation’s internal data system.
But greater collaboration, communication, and coordination among federal criminal justice agencies
should follow that action. The Transition from Prison to Community (TPC) initiative provides one
potential model. Developed by the National Institute of Corrections under the auspices of the BOP, the
TPC model calls for the development of a transition accountability plan that is initiated at prison
admission, follows the individual throughout the institutional stay, undergoes modification to reflect
progress and changes, and is provided to community supervision agencies to ensure a seamless,
integrated continuum of transition and reentry.

122

The Task Force recommends that the federal

government adopt the TPC approach or similar standardized assessment and case management
protocols and practices across agencies and contractors. As the BOP develops its risk and needs
assessment and expands its individualized case planning, it should consult with US Probation and its
largest RRC contractors and develop comparable data, indicators, and measures.

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RECOMMENDATION 4: ENSURE SUCCESSFUL REINTEGRATION

Strengthen supervised release and expand use of early termination for successful
individuals
Research has consistently shown that incentives for meeting case-specific goals enhance individual
motivation and improve supervision outcomes.

123

Since nearly every federal prison sentence includes

supervised release, providing people with an opportunity to reduce their terms of supervision can be a
powerful tool for behavior change. Further, the length of supervision term should be determined by the
risk of reoffending. Evidence suggests that there may be diminishing returns from longer supervision
terms and that too much supervision may increase the likelihood of recidivism.

124

One primary role of US Probation is to manage those on postconviction supervision, including
probation and supervised release. At the end of FY 2014, a total of 132,858 people were under
postconviction supervision.

125

Task Force testimony and fact finding suggest that US Probation has

made a concerted effort to adopt evidence-based supervision practices. Examples of best practices
include the Post Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA) tool to determine risk and supervision levels and
the Staff Training Aimed at Reducing Rearrest (STARR) program to equip supervision staff with the
skills for successfully managing their cases. US Probation has also developed guidelines for responding
to violations and uses incentives that include early termination for those who comply with the
conditions of their supervision. US Probation leaders should be commended for these efforts, and the
Task Force encourages them to continue on this path.
But given its placement in the federal Judiciary, US Probation is not subject to the scrutiny or
oversight directed at the BOP and other executive branch agencies, which can be evaluated by the US
Government Accountability Office or an Inspector General. A thorough review of US Probation’s
adherence to evidence-based practice was beyond the scope of the Task Force’s work. However, it is
highly recommended that the Joint Working Group (described in the following chapter) conduct such a
review. Specifically, that review should examine whether federal caseloads are assigned appropriately
in accordance with risk levels, whether such caseloads are of a size consistent with best practice, and
whether conditions of supervision (including any assessed supervision fees) support rather than thwart
successful reintegration.
One concern raised before the Task Force is that US Probation may be unable to continue
supervising its growing caseloads without additional resources. Many recommendations contained
within this report will result in a shift of individuals from the BOP to the supervision of US Probation.
Without additional funding and staffing, that shift will drive up caseloads and possibly erode best
practices. These concerns are explored further in the reinvestment recommendations in the last
chapter of this report.
Another way to address an expanding supervision population is to increase the use of early
termination of supervision. Federal judges currently have the authority to terminate a supervised
release term once an individual has served at least one year of the term. The Judicial Conference has
approved a presumption

126

in favor of early termination for individuals with limited criminal history

(“noncareer”) who have been convicted of nonviolent crimes and have been under supervision for at
least 18 months. Probation officers are responsible for bringing these cases to the court’s attention and
notifying the US Attorney’s office when a recommendation is submitted.

RECOMMENDATION 4: ENSURE SUCCESSFUL REINTEGRATION

55

In FY 2014, US probation closed 43,302 supervised release cases, 68 percent without revocation.
Nineteen percent of closed supervised release cases had technical violations, 3 percent had minor
violations, and 10 percent had major violations. Approximately 19 percent of people terminated from
supervised release without a revocation were granted early termination.

127

Further, roundtable

participants stated that the use of early terminations varies significantly across districts, ranging from
an estimated 6 percent of supervised release terms in one district to 48 percent of supervised release
terms in another. This may reflect differences in judicial and prosecutorial practices across districts. In
2014, US Probation reported savings of nearly $32.5 million, or $4,363 per person associated with early
releases from those under postconviction supervision.

128

In light of the potential for significant increases in individuals coming onto supervision, the Task
Force recommends that US Probation greatly expand the use of early termination for people who have
successfully complied with their terms of supervision for a year or more. Prospectively, all cases should
be reviewed for early termination if one year of supervision has been completed with full compliance of
supervision requirements. For those currently on supervision, reviews should be ongoing and should
initially target people who have been on supervision for a long time, have a history of compliance with
supervision conditions, and are identified as lower risk by US Probation’s PCRA.

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RECOMMENDATION 4: ENSURE SUCCESSFUL REINTEGRATION

Recommendation 5: Enhance System
Performance and Accountability through
Better Coordination across Agencies
and Increased Transparency
Taken together, the Task Force recommendations reimagine the federal criminal justice system as an
integrated network, with agencies and actors working collaboratively to further the interests of justice
and public safety. To achieve lasting success and maximum benefits from this new approach,
measurement of performance and reporting of results should be ongoing.
Toward that end, the Task Force recommends the following actions:


Establish a joint Department of Justice/Judiciary working group (Joint Working Group) on
sentencing and corrections to oversee implementation of recommended reforms



Expand and disseminate public information and knowledge about federal corrections and
supervision



Establish a BOP Office of Victim Services as a point of contact for victims seeking information
or support



Expand the role and capacity of the USSC to include more diverse perspectives and greater
responsibility for cross-agency collaboration



Establish a permanent BOP Performance, Accountability, and Oversight Board to ensure the
BOP carries out the recommended reforms while maintaining high standards of correctional
practice



Review federal collateral consequence laws, regulations, and practices that, without a public
safety basis, bar civic participation and access to programs, and develop recommendations,
starting with allowing Pell grants for incarcerated persons and eliminating criminal history
disclosure on employment applications for federal employees and contractors

Background
As described throughout this report, the Task Force envisions holistic change that spans the federal
criminal justice system. If its recommendations are adopted, prosecutors would be more selective in the
cases they pursue and would file charges that match the seriousness of the underlying offense and the
individual. With mandatory minimum penalties lifted for many drug crimes, judges would be equipped
with broader options, enabling them to set prison sentences suitable for each offense and use probation
and other alternatives to incarceration when appropriate. The BOP, meanwhile, would increase the use
of earned time and other incentives, expand evidence-based programs proven to reduce recidivism,
match program assignments to the risks and needs of individuals, and improve conditions of
confinement. On the back end of the system, community supervision would be anchored in validated
risk and needs assessments and evidence-based practices, graduated sanctions would be employed in

RECOMMENDATION 5: ENHANCE SYSTEM PERFORMANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

57

response to supervision violations, and terms of supervision would be reduced upon successful
compliance with supervision conditions over time.
As the Task Force sees it, each successive stage in the criminal justice process should be shaped by
the experience of the previous stages and should benefit from a common and regularly updated
understanding of the risks, needs, assets, and accomplishments of the individuals passing through.
Moreover, each part of the system needs sufficient funding and staff expertise to deliver evidencebased supervision and programming customized for each individual.
Creating this new and fully integrated system will require coordinating across multiple agencies,
increasing transparency of agency policies and practices, and holding agencies and the whole system
accountable for results. The recommendations in this section, based on Task Force findings as well as
research and state system experiences, will promote and sustain the successful adoption of these
changes throughout the federal system.

Recommendations
Establish a joint Department of Justice/Judiciary working group on sentencing and
corrections to oversee implementation of recommended reforms
To ensure successful reform, recommended changes in prosecution, sentencing, and corrections policies
must be carried out carefully and closely monitored to assess their impact. Effective implementation will
require systematic communication and coordination among US Attorneys, the BOP, the Judiciary, US
Probation, and the USSC.
This will not be easy, and the Task Force has learned that despite these agencies’ overlapping or
complementary responsibilities, they have not always worked in concert, at both the policy and
operational levels. This lack of coordination has frustrated efforts to provide seamless treatment and
reentry planning, and has led to a lack of consistent performance measures critical to gauging the
impact of policies and practices. Further, coordination is complicated by the agencies operating in two
different branches of government.
Therefore, the Task Force recommends creating an interagency, interbranch group to ensure
reforms are carried out successfully. The Joint Working Group would be chaired by the Deputy
Attorney General and the Chair of the Criminal Law Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United
States. This oversight entity would not only promote transparency and accountability across the
system, but also would recommend improvements and additional reforms as needed. Justice
Reinvestment Initiative states have relied increasingly on such oversight bodies to coordinate
implementation efforts, monitor progress, and measure outcomes.

129

The Task Force believes the

federal system would benefit from such a body as well.
This oversight entity would foster coordination and planning, monitor activities, and measure
changes in policy and practice. It would include representatives of the key federal agencies with direct

58

RECOMMENDATION 5 : ENHANCE SYSTEM PERFORMANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

responsibility for sentencing and corrections, including US Attorneys, Main Justice (Deputy Attorney
General, Criminal Division), the BOP, US Courts, US Probation, Federal Defenders, and the US
Sentencing Commission. Also included would be a victims’ representative and representatives from
policy entities familiar with best practices, including the Office of Justice Programs, the National
Institute of Corrections, and the Federal Interagency Reentry Council.
The Joint Working Group would meet at least quarterly to review the key agencies’ progress and
discuss pertinent issues as they arise. In conjunction with the BOP Performance, Accountability, and
Oversight Board and the USSC, the oversight group would submit an annual report to Congress (i.e., to
the House and Senate Judiciary and Appropriations Committees) on progress and on key performance
metrics. The working group would be staffed by the DOJ and the Administrative Office of the US
Courts.
While the Joint Working Group would initially focus on the new reforms, it would also assume an
ongoing role overseeing sentencing and corrections policy. Specifically, the Task Force asks that the
Joint Working Group ensure federal probation is anchored in evidence-based practice. That means
caseloads should be assigned in accordance with risk levels and of a size consistent with best practice,
and that conditions of supervision—including any potential supervision fees—support rather than
undermine reentry.
As described in the recommendations below, the Task Force also proposes that the Joint Working
Group take the lead in expanding public information about the federal system’s performance and
developing reinvestment recommendations.

Expand and disseminate public information and knowledge about federal
corrections and supervision
The Task Force believes that expanded awareness of the federal system’s policies and practices and their
outcomes will foster transparency and increase accountability. In particular, the Task Force recommends
improvements in caseload reporting, performance measurement, and communication with victims.

Caseload reporting
The DOJ, the Administrative Office of the US Courts, and the USSC all release information about people
convicted, sentenced, incarcerated, and under supervision in the federal system.

130

Most prepare

annual reports and special studies and some post information on their websites. These data are helpful
in understanding caseload composition and trends. In addition, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
publishes data on the federal system and has an online tool with selected variables for most stages of
the criminal justice process.

131

Key aspects of agency operations and caseloads, however, are not made public or reported
routinely. For example, neither the BOP nor US Probation routinely releases information about the risk
levels of the populations they serve or the services those populations receive. The BOP does not publish
data about prerelease custody violations. US Probation does not publish detailed information about the

RECOMMENDATION 5: ENHANCE SYSTEM PERFORMANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

59

outcomes of those on supervision by risk level. The BJS online tool does not include supervision cases or
district-level information.
As a result, The Task Force recommends that these key federal criminal justice agencies augment
their reporting of caseload data on the corrections and supervision populations to include information
about risk and needs levels, program participation, services, and outcomes. The Task Force suggests
that the Joint Working Group coordinate a review of annual caseload reporting and recommend
changes as needed. Based on its fact finding, the Task Force proposes the following improvements:


The BOP should expand the information reported on its website and prepare an annual report
with statistics on its incoming, standing, and exiting populations. Tables and data should be
provided about individuals in prerelease custody, including statistics on any violations in the
community.



US Probation should expand its annual reporting to include risk and needs levels of those on
probation and supervised release, overall and by offense of conviction, as well as outcomes of
supervision by risk and offense categories. US Probation should also report on the outcomes of
all problem-solving courts (pretrial diversion and reentry) and archive agency datasets at the
National Archive of Criminal Justice Data.



The Executive Office for US Attorneys, which reports on all cases prosecuted by US Attorneys’
offices, should expand the information it provides about cases diverted pretrial, as well as
information about diversion and reentry court programs used across the districts.



The BJS should expand its interactive data to include information from US Probation, and
expand the current set of data available from other agencies. The BJS should also review the
datasets they receive from participating agencies to identify opportunities for expansion.

Performance metrics
Monitoring the progress of reform and developing performance measures to assess whether policy
changes produce their intended effects will be essential. Such monitoring should include reviewing case
processing trends, such as the number and mix of cases prosecuted, the number and types of cases
diverted, the types of sentences imposed and prison lengths, the changes in the BOP population, and the
changes in the US Probation caseload. It will also be important to establish meaningful measures that
describe outcomes for individuals who have passed through the system and reentered the community.
To fortify monitoring and increase accountability, the Task Force recommends that the Joint
Working Group review agency performance measures, develop metrics to fill any gaps, and coordinate
annual reporting to Congress. The Joint Working Group should adopt a consistent set of recidivism
measures for the federal system. The Task Force further recommends that the USSC compile and
release recidivism data annually, using multiple measures and definitions developed in consultation
with the Joint Working Group. Finally, the BOP Performance, Accountability, and Oversight Board
(described below), which will examine the BOP’s performance metrics, should coordinate its efforts
with the USSC and the Joint Working Group.
One early priority for the Joint Working Group should be to collect data and metrics key agencies
currently use to report their performance and outcomes for budget and other purposes. For example,
the BOP uses several indicators to measure its performance, including safety, recidivism, and crowding.

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RECOMMENDATION 5 : ENHANCE SYSTEM PERFORMANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

The BOP gauges safety, for example, based on rates of escapes, disturbances, and serious assaults. The
BOP has also reported several different measures of recidivism rates for individuals released from BOP
custody.
The Joint Working Group should consult experts to determine the sufficiency of current BOP
performance metrics and identify any that are missing. Agency staff can work with the Joint Working
Group to explore the feasibility of collecting additional data. The Joint Working Group should compile
and release the metrics in an annual report. In addition to recidivism measures, other reentry outcomes,
including employment and substance abuse, should be routinely collected and disseminated.
One key responsibility of the working group will be to help devise a consistent and meaningful set of
recidivism measures. The BOP and US Probation periodically report federal recidivism rates,

132

and at

least two agencies are currently conducting federal recidivism studies (see box 11 for an example). But
no consensus on recidivism measures or routine reporting requirements has emerged. Given the
importance of recidivism as both a measure of public safety and an indicator of system effectiveness,
this problem demands serious attention.

BOX 11

USSC Recidivism Study
The USSC’s multiyear recidivism study is examining those who served time in federal prisons and were
released to the community in 2005, using an eight-year follow-up period. Upcoming analyses will
examine any rearrest within eight years, as well as any reconviction and any reincarceration, the time to
first charge, and the number and severity of recidivism events. The USSC also intends to examine
characteristics associated with recidivism outcomes, including demographics, prior criminal history,
type of sentence and time served, and length of postrelease supervision. The study includes US citizens
for whom a pre-sentence report is available and valid FBI numbers could be found.
Source: Hunt 2015.

The Task Force recommends that Joint Working Group members agree upon a set of recidivism
data that uses multiple measures (rearrest, reconviction, and any reincarceration for a new crime or
return to prison), distinguishes the reason for return to incarceration (new crime versus supervision
violation), tracks individuals for at least three years, and measures time to failure. In addition, agencies
should consider including severity of the crime and developing measures of desistance from criminal
offending. The methodology being used by the USSC may be the appropriate model for the future. The
USSC will be responsible for annually compiling and releasing the standard set of recidivism data. The
Joint Working Group should also discuss how to report violations and arrests that occur while
individuals are in BOP prerelease custody.
In a related recommendation, the Task Force asks that the Joint Working Group add to its future
agenda a review of budget metrics used by agencies to assess how well they align with desired
performance outcomes. Throughout the system, funding formulas are not always aligned with the

RECOMMENDATION 5: ENHANCE SYSTEM PERFORMANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

61

current agency priorities or key public safety outcomes. For example, allocation decisions for probation
reward caseload size rather than recidivism reduction, creating perverse incentives for agencies and
individuals to keep people under supervision.

Establish a BOP Office of Victim Services as a point of contact for victims seeking
information or support
In adopting the reforms recommended in this report, attendance to victims’ issues and needs is critical.
Federal officials should provide consistent, appropriate services at all points in the criminal justice
system. Currently, the Victim Notification System is the primary source of communication to victims of
federal crime, providing automated alerts to victims through notices triggered by milestones in case
processing. While such data are critical to victims, both victims and their advocates reported that
greater and more direct communication from the criminal justice system is needed to help victims heal
and ensure they are treated with dignity and respect.
The corrections system can take several productive steps to improve experiences for victims of
federal crime by increasing both resources and communication. The most important action would be to
create a central victims’ service office at the BOP. The office would serve as a point of contact for
victims seeking support or information about individuals during their time in federal custody. The office
should also develop and implement strategies for sharing information with victims about the recidivismreduction programming incarcerated individuals receive.
However, only a small proportion of federal crimes have identifiable victims, given the large share
of persons convicted of drug offenses. These include financial crimes, white collar crimes, Indian
Country cases, and child pornography. Other cases, such as those involving large-scale drug trafficking,
clearly inflict significant harm on communities and individuals, but by their nature generate little
evidence allowing law enforcement to identify individual victims.

Expand the role and capacity of the USSC to include more diverse perspectives and
greater responsibility for cross-agency collaboration
Given its current mandate and role (see box 12), the USSC is well positioned to coordinate the
sentencing reforms recommended by the Task Force and take an active role in tracking, assessing, and
ensuring the changes are sustainable.
In addition to the USSC being responsible for amending the Guidelines and serving as the expert
body on sentencing policy, it is congressionally mandated “to minimize the likelihood that the Federal
Prison population will exceed the capacity of the Federal prisons.”

133

In recent years, the USSC has

adopted changes aimed at addressing the BOP capacity crisis.

62

RECOMMENDATION 5 : ENHANCE SYSTEM PERFORMANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

BOX 12

US Sentencing Commission
The USSC’s principal purposes are to:
1.
2.
3.

Establish sentencing policies and practices for the federal courts
Advise and assist Congress and the executive branch in the development of effective and
efficient crime policy
Collect, analyze, research, and distribute information on federal crime and sentencing issues

Among the USSC’s mandates is to create guidelines to prevent overcapacity in the federal prison
system. In pursuit of that goal, in 2014 the USSC reexamined drug offense penalties, which led to the
retroactive application of certain sentence reductions. In addition, the USSC is continuing its scrutiny of
mandatory minimum penalties, which have had a significant impact on population levels and costs. The
USSC is also examining the structure of the Sentencing Guidelines post-Booker. On that front, its work
includes considering ways to simplify the Sentencing Guidelines, encouraging the use of alternatives to
incarceration, and conducting a multiyear recidivism study.
Source: US Sentencing Commission 2011a.

In light of the USSC’s critical responsibilities for developing sentencing policy and its key role in
ensuring the success of the proposed reforms, the Task Force believes the USSC should reflect a
broader range of perspectives. The USSC currently includes seven voting members and two ex-officio
members representing the DOJ and the Parole Commission. Members are appointed by the President
and confirmed by the Senate and serve six-year terms. At least three commissioners must be federal
judges and no more than four may belong to the same political party. Currently, other stakeholder
perspectives are elicited primarily through advisory groups, such as those for defense attorneys,
probation officers, victims, and tribal organizations, as well as through public comment on specific issues
before the USSC.
To ensure better representation of these stakeholders, the Task Force recommends prescribing
that those most affected by sentencing policies, particularly victims and formerly incarcerated
individuals, as well defense attorneys and correctional experts, are represented on the USSC by full
voting members. The Task Force also recommends that the DOJ representative be elevated to a full
voting member.
In addition to amending the Guidelines to conform to the recommended statutory changes, the Task
Force recommends that the USSC:
1.

Monitor and report on the impact of changes in sentencing such as eliminating drug mandatory
minimum penalties based on drug quantity, allowing judges to sentence below the mandatory
minimum for certain weapon offenses, and employing the new Second Look provision

2.

Revise its 2011 Report to the Congress: Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal
Justice System, submit the report to Congress in January 2018, and revise it biennially
thereafter, including updated recommendations

RECOMMENDATION 5: ENHANCE SYSTEM PERFORMANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

63

3.

Annually compile and release recidivism data, using common definitions developed in
consultation with the Joint Working Group, particularly the BOP, US Probation, and the BJS

Establish a permanent BOP Performance, Accountability, and Oversight Board
The Task Force recommends the establishment of a Performance, Accountability, and Oversight Board
(Board) to ensure the BOP carries out the recommended reforms while maintaining high standards of
correctional practice. This high-level entity would operate akin to a corporate board,

xxviii

overseeing

changes in policy and practice, guiding and monitoring performance measurement and strategic
planning activities, reviewing and helping shape the delivery of risk-reduction programming and
transition planning, and monitoring conditions of confinement to ensure they are secure and humane.
This Board would be different from the existing DOJ Inspector General, the Government Accountability
Office, and other congressional oversight roles, playing a constructive function in guiding the
organization toward best practices and adherence to high standards.
The Attorney General should appoint Board members, who should be a distinguished group of
individuals representing diverse backgrounds. Examples of suitable members include former high-level
members of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government; leaders in criminal justice
from the prosecution and defense bar, a formerly incarcerated individual, as well as a victim advocate; a
top criminal justice researcher; an esteemed current or former director of state corrections; a member
of the faith community; and a business leader. Such a group could provide the knowledge and expertise
needed to help the BOP navigate the challenges ahead, and could also advocate for programming and
staffing allocations to support the BOP’s public safety mandate.
The BOP Director and the head of the federal correctional employees union should serve as ex
officio members of the Board, which would be supported by BOP staff. Specifically, the Board would be
charged with:
1.

Working with the BOP to develop and promulgate performance metrics (at both organizational
and staff levels) that emphasize risk and needs assessment and risk-reduction activities, reentry
preparation, and postrelease outcomes

2.

Monitoring development of the new risk and needs assessment and implementation of the new
earned time credits

3.

Reviewing and disseminating BOP data on performance, safety, and security metrics to support
routine system assessment and to identify needed improvements (for example, statistics on use
of segregation, use of discipline, level of assaults, misconduct)

4.

Reviewing the oversight functions of the DOJ Inspector General, the Government
Accountability Office, and Congress, along with existing auditing and compliance mechanisms
such as Affordable Care Act accreditation and Prison Rape Elimination Act compliance, to
ensure sufficient checks and balances are in place to support the BOP’s system transformation

xxviii

Unlike a corporate board, members of the Performance, Accountability, and Oversight Board would not be
compensated and would not have any fiduciary responsibilities.

64

RECOMMENDATION 5 : ENHANCE SYSTEM PERFORMANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

5.

Overseeing development of a comprehensive ten-year plan to restructure the federal prison
system in light of significant reductions in the prison population

6.

Conducting special studies, for example, a review of prerelease custody practices and
procedures, focused on RRCs

Review federal collateral consequence laws, regulations, and practices, and develop
specific recommendations to Congress
The collateral consequences of a prison sentence or a conviction extend well beyond an individual’s
term of imprisonment or supervision. Many organizations, academic experts, and policymakers have
spotlighted the extent of these invisible punishments and have proposed ways to ease the harm they
inflict after incarceration. With funding from the federal government, for example, the American Bar
Association created the National Inventory of Collateral Consequences, which catalogs more than
45,000 state and federal laws and regulations that can restrict an individual’s successful reentry into
society.

134

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Restoration of Rights Project

compiles information about laws and practices in each jurisdiction that can help individuals overcome or
mitigate the effects of collateral consequences.

135

Reentry is a formidable challenge for individuals leaving prison. Not only must they
adjust to freedom and an ever-changing society after years or decades on the inside,
they must also contend with numerous legal barriers to rebuilding their lives.
Jesselyn McCurdy, Senior Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union, March 11, 2015

The Obama Administration, through its Federal Interagency Reentry Council, has also been
examining federally imposed collateral consequences, including those that impede employment and
educational opportunities, to see which could be eliminated or reduced without compromising public
safety.

136

The Task Force supports the institutionalization of this council as well as the continued review

of federal collateral consequence laws that, without a public safety basis or relationship to the original
crime, bar civic participation and access to programs, services, and housing. The Task Force
recommends that the Joint Working Group consult with the Federal Interagency Reentry Council to
develop recommendations to Congress that will prevent or remove these barriers to successful
reintegration. As a starting point, the Task Force urges Congress to remove the prohibitions on Pell
grants for incarcerated persons. The Task Force also recommends that the President eliminate
executive branch requirements mandating the disclosure of criminal history on employment
applications for federal contractors, parallel to action already taken by the President for federal
employees. The Task Force urges Congress to codify these changes for both federal contractors and
employees. Removing the disclosure requirement would not pose a risk to national security, as it does
not prevent hiring agencies from conducting background checks on candidates for employment; it
simply evens the playing field at the very beginning of the application process.

RECOMMENDATION 5: ENHANCE SYSTEM PERFORMANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

65

Recommendation 6: Reinvest Savings to
Support the Expansion of Necessary Programs,
Supervision, and Treatment
The Task Force has developed a package of reforms designed to remedy decades of unbridled prison
population growth and to reduce recidivism. If carried out according to the Task Force
recommendations, the reforms will improve public safety while producing meaningful and sustainable
reductions in the number of people behind bars. To ensure these reforms have the intended impact,
significant resources must be invested upfront to improve risk-reduction programming in prison,
strengthen and expand supervision, and increase coordination among federal justice agencies. And as
the BOP population declines, funding that otherwise would have paid for incarcerating a growing prison
population should be reinvested to accomplish these program goals. Without such reinvestment, the
federal correctional system is unlikely to deliver the projected benefits of reform.
The Task Force recommends that Congress authorize and appropriate resources to support the
recommended reforms. This recommendation is based on the firm belief that these investments in
rightsizing and strengthening our federal corrections system are imperative to protect public safety,
hold individuals accountable for their crimes, provide the necessary support to change lives, and control
federal expenditures. Specifically, the Task Force recommends:


Congress should provide funds immediately to the DOJ and the Judiciary for:

»

The BOP to adopt a validated risk and needs assessment tool, to catalog current program
offerings and capacity, and to expand necessary programs and treatment

»
»
»
»

US Probation to increase staffing, programs, and services
US Courts to establish the Second Look function
The USSC to expand capacity and training
The DOJ Office of Justice Programs to incentivize front-end diversion programs,
problem-solving courts, and other alternatives to incarceration, through grant programs
to courts and prosecutors’ offices



The Joint Working Group, led by the DOJ and the Judiciary, should develop
recommendations for reinvesting savings from the reduced BOP population, including
continuation of funding for efforts specified above and support for other Task Force
recommended reforms as they come online

66

RECOMMENDATION 6: REINVEST SAVINGS

Population and Cost Projections
The Task Force estimates that its recommendations, if implemented jointly, would reduce the federal
prison population and related spending by considerable amounts. Taken as a whole, the
recommendations are estimated to reduce the BOP population by more than 60,000 by FY 2024,
compared to current population forecasts (figure 11). This reduction would translate to a savings of
over $5 billion by FY 2024. These population declines would be driven largely by the recommended
shortening of most drug-related prison sentences.

xxix

As noted above, the Task Force advises that

retroactive changes to drug sentences be phased in slowly to ensure adequate preparation for release,
beginning 24 months after recommended changes.

FIGURE 11

Projected impact of recommendations on the BOP population
Baseline

Joint impact

250,000
200,000
150,000
100,000
50,000
0
2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

2022

2023

2024

Source: Task Force staff analysis of BOP and USSC FY 1994–2014 data.

xxix

See appendix D for estimates of the impact of each recommendation that has quantifiable population impacts.
Note that population and cost impact estimates are not calculated for recommendations related to changes to
prosecutorial practice, increased use of alternatives to incarceration (outside of drug sentencing), and changes in
recidivism rates. If the Task Force recommendations are adopted, the BOP should be able to operate within its
current rated capacity. The FY 2016 congressional appropriation for the BOP (buildings and facilities) includes
$444 million for new prison construction. We do not assume any future expenditures for prison construction, even
without Task Force recommendation implementation.

RECOMMENDATION 6: REINVEST SAVINGS

67

Task Force projections show that the BOP population will continue to drop by about 10,000 people
each year for the coming five years, falling to within rated capacity by the end of FY 2021. Although this
population reduction is significant, its budgetary impact will not be fully realized in the first few years
following reform. Because BOP facilities are understaffed and overcrowded, even significant reductions
in population will not prompt immediate facility closures or personnel reductions, the two budget items
that can yield the greatest savings.

xxx

Rather, much of the money saved through adoption of the Task

Force recommendations would enable the BOP to essentially catch up and remedy the impacts of years
of rapid growth.
Given the delayed accrual of savings associated with reforms, it is imperative that Congress
appropriate funds in advance of reform implementation to help the BOP and other agencies comply
with Task Force recommendations. US Probation, in particular, will need additional resources to expand
and strengthen community supervision. These critical up-front investments will be far outweighed by
the savings accrued over time from prison population reductions, as well as from the public safety
benefits associated with enhanced reentry preparation and reintegration support.

Reinvestment Plan
The recommended changes in federal sentencing and corrections policies will cause ripple effects
across the criminal justice system. The Task Force projects that the BOP population will continue to
drop. As a result, caseloads for probation and supervised release will increase by thousands as releases
from prison to supervision accelerate and the use of probation and other incarceration alternatives
grows. At the end of FY 2014, 132,858

137

people were on probation or supervised release, but

thousands have likely been added since then as a result of recent sentencing changes.

138

Correctional

agencies will need additional resources to ensure that individuals—wherever they are in the system—
receive appropriate supervision and programming tailored to their risk and needs. Funding will also be
required to support several other Task Force recommendations. Resource needs must be addressed for
the immediate future, as well as for the long term.

xxx

These projections assume that the BOP will not close any of the facilities it operates by FY 2024. The BOP may
need to repurpose facilities designed for those in lower security levels to house individuals at a higher risk of
institutional misconduct, so the rated capacity of BOP facilities may change in years to come. A marginal cost of
$10,994 per person per year is used to calculate savings for all except private facilities, for which the average cost is
$22,159 per person per year. If the BOP does, indeed, close or consolidate facilities as a result of these
recommendations, these projected savings will substantially understate the fiscal impact.

68

RECOMMENDATION 6: REINVEST SAVINGS

Unless workload increases for probation are better coordinated and resourced,
the efficacy of the federal criminal justice system, and ultimately
public safety, could be compromised.
The Honorable Irene M. Keeley, Chair of the Criminal Law Committee
for the Judicial Conference of the US, January 27, 2015

Under the justice reinvestment model, the savings accrued from reducing the federal prison
population are spent, or “reinvested,” in other programs and initiatives that can improve accountability,
reduce recidivism and increase public safety. State policymakers who have engaged in justice
reinvestment have learned that up-front investment is essential to ensure that changes in policy and
practice can be launched as soon as they are enacted.

139

Some call this up-front investment “jump-

starting” reform to ensure a smooth and successful beginning that increases the odds of dividends down
the road.
Even if the Task Force recommendations are adopted in full, the federal prison population will
remain above facilities’ rated capacity for several years to come. During that time, the BOP will continue
to admit and release tens of thousands of people annually. Unless the BOP receives an up-front
investment, the Task Force believes the projected benefits of improved rehabilitation, supervision, and
public safety are unlikely to materialize. The Task Force has identified several federal agencies that will
require an immediate infusion of money in the first year, before any Task Force recommendations are
brought fully to scale (see figure 12).

RECOMMENDATION 6: REINVEST SAVINGS

69

FIGURE 12

Up-front reinvestment
Agency

Description

Justification

BOP

New risk and needs assessment
tool, gap assessment

Programming capacity should be matched to the risk
and needs of the population to reduce recidivism

BOP

Expanded programming

Waitlists, understaffing, and lack of appropriate
programming persist in the BOP

BOP, US Courts

Victims’ communications and
input

Victims should be made aware of the impact of
reforms on incarcerated individuals’ program
participation, release date, and supervision status,
and should be solicited for input in the Second Look
process

US Courts

Additional probation officers and
expanded programming

Probation and supervised release caseloads will
increase as individuals are diverted from prison or
released from custody

US Courts

Additional judges for Second Look

Congress should create new judgeships and the
Courts should provide judicial training for sentence
review

US Courts

Enhanced role for defenders

The Courts should include defenders as part of
Second Look process, and ensure federal defender
involvement in alternative sentencing mechanisms

DOJ

Alternatives to incarceration

The Office of Justice Programs should create a grant
program that would incentivize prosecutors and the
courts to develop and expand problem-solving courts
and alternatives to incarceration

Expanded capacity and training

The USSC should train prosecutors, judges, probation
officers, and federal defenders about the changes in
sentencing policy, and address concerns about
reintroducing increased disparity

Office of Justice
Programs
USSC

Investment priorities
During its fact-finding phase, the Task Force learned that BOP staffing levels at both the casemanagement and unit management levels are thin. This has created persistent waitlists and program
shortages, especially in vocational training (including FPI) and general education. These programs are
key components of reentry preparation and should be provided additional resources immediately, even
before a gap analysis.
Creating sufficient capacity for case managers is critical as well, particularly given the Task Force
recommendations regarding risk and needs assessments and intensive case management. Case
managers direct in-prison rehabilitation efforts and also coordinate reentry. If staff is stretched thin, the
success of such efforts will inevitably be jeopardized. Substantial increases are necessary to reduce
caseloads and ensure risk and needs assessments and case plans are developed properly.
The Task Force strongly recommends greater use of community supervision, both on the front end
and following an accelerated release. US Probation, however, is already straining under its current

70

RECOMMENDATION 6: REINVEST SAVINGS

caseload; it cannot shoulder more cases and still ensure public safety without additional resources. If
the Task Force recommendations are adopted, projections indicate that US Probation caseloads could
rise by thousands of people in the first year alone—even before retroactive application of changes to
drug sentencing. Congress will need to appropriate additional funds to the Judiciary to cover an
increased caseload.

xxxi

In addition to these larger expenditures, outlays are required to lay the groundwork for many Task
Force recommendations. For example, the Task Force calls for twelve new judgeships to handle the
Second Look function, and those should be accompanied by supporting clerkships and administrative
resources. The President’s clemency initiative has also shown the importance of providing defense
attorneys with access to old court documents and resources to review old cases. In addition, the USSC
will need additional resources to support training prosecutors, judges, probation officers, and federal
defenders about the changes in sentencing policy, as well as to address concerns about reintroducing
increased disparity. Defenders should receive funding for their role in the Second Look and additional
alternative sentencing mechanisms.
Finally, this Task Force calls for additional funding for a grant program that will incentivize courts
and prosecutors to develop alternatives to incarceration, such as pretrial diversion and problemsolving courts.

Most long-term savings should be reinvested in promoting public safety
Except for development of the risk and needs assessment, each budget priority mentioned above will
require ongoing investment. After the first year of reform, particularly as information becomes available
about the precise effects of the Task Force’s recommendations, these increased expenditures should be
built into the budgets for each agency. Much of the savings generated through reductions in the BOP
population will be immediately captured by the BOP as it expands programming to reduce recidivism.
The gap assessment of BOP programs may find that substantial additional resources are necessary to
expand certain programming above and beyond the expansions discussed above.
As noted above, prosecutors and the courts will need additional expenditures to support
alternatives to incarceration, and US Probation will need to hire more officers to handle elevated
caseloads. Many of those testifying before the Task Force expressed concern that if the federal system
embraced reform “on the cheap,” without sufficient funding or effective community supervision
strategies, poor outcomes would follow, undermining public safety. That result, above all, is one the
Task Force urges Congress to avoid.

xxxi

Importantly, federal probation rests in a different branch of the federal government than BOP. Moreover,
appropriations for these agencies are done separately. Appropriators should work together to ensure that a share
of the DOJ’s projected savings can be dedicated to expanding the federal probation capacity.

RECOMMENDATION 6: REINVEST SAVINGS

71

Appendix A. Recommendations by Authority
Recommendation 1: Reserve Prison for Those Convicted
of the Most Serious Federal Crimes

1.1
1.1.a
1.1.b

1.2
1.2.a

1.2.b

1.3
1.3.a
1.3.b
1.3.c

1.4
1.4.a
1.4.b
1.4.c

1.4.d

1.5
1.5.a
1.5.b

72

Executive
Branch

Recommendation

Congress

Mandatory minimums for drug offenses
Repeal drug mandatory minimum penalties,
except for drug kingpins; apply Fair
Sentencing Act retroactively
Revise Sentencing Guidelines to reflect role
and culpability; prescribe alternatives to prison
for lower-level drug trafficking offenses


Congress

Mandatory minimums for weapon possession
Enable judges to sentence below the
mandatory minimum weapon enhancement
for possession associated with nonviolent
offense
Monitor impact of change and consider similar
departure mechanisms for other mandatory
minimums


Congress



Congress

USSC

Mandatory minimum research and sunset
provisions
Update report on mandatory minimum
penalties re: unwarranted disparities or
disproportionately severe sentences
Apply sunset provision to any future
mandatory minimum penalties
Prepare prison, fiscal, and racial impact
assessments for proposed legislative and
Sentencing Guidelines changes
Alternatives to incarceration
Prescribe probation for lower-level drug
trafficking offenses and consider doing so for
other offense types
Promulgate information regarding alternatives
to incarceration
Increase use of alternatives to incarceration
including front-end diversion courts,
problem-solving courts, and evidence-based
probation
Authorize and fund front-end diversion
programs and problem-solving courts,
evaluating alternatives
Federal prosecution
Review case selection and charging practices
regarding federal interest and jurisdiction
Analyze data from all US Attorneys’ offices to
determine application of Smart on Crime

Judiciary


USSC






USSC

Congress



DOJ, other
agencies

US Courts,
USSC




USSC
USSC

US Attorneys

Congress

Judges

OJP


US Attorneys
US Attorneys

APPENDIX A. RECOMMEN DATIONS BY AUTHORITY

Recommendation 2: Promote a Culture of Safety and
Rehabilitation in Federal Facilities
Recommendation
2.1
2.1.a
2.1.b
2.1.c
2.2
2.2.a
2.2.b
2.3
2.3.a
2.3.b
2.3.c
2.3.d
2.4
2.4.a
2.4.b
2.4.c
2.4.d

2.5
2.5.a
2.5.b
2.5.c
2.5.d

Safety and security in BOP
Assess and reallocate staffing to ensure
appropriate inmate-to-staff ratios
Ensure individuals are housed in accordance
with rated cell capacity
Enable individuals to earn up to 15 percent off
sentence to incentivize good conduct

Congress


Executive
Branch

BOP
Congress

Risk and needs
Develop and implement an actuarial risk and
needs assessment tool
Develop case plans and deliver programming
based on individual risk and needs


BOP

Programming
Develop aggregate criminogenic risk and needs
profile of its population
Conduct a systemwide assessment of facilityspecific programming needs
Allocate programs and treatment offerings in
accordance with facility risk and need
Expand educational and occupational
opportunities in accordance with facility need


BOP

Conditions of confinement and rehabilitative
culture
Train all staff on communication, problem
solving, and procedurally just resolution
practices
Use segregated housing as punitive measure
only in extraordinary circumstances
Ensure housing and security procedures
respond to specific needs of diverse
population
Develop appropriate and nonrestrictive
housing options for those in need of
protective custody
Family engagement
House people close to home communities
Establish visitation and family affairs office to
oversee and ease visitation procedures
Expand video conferencing and other visitation
programs
Enhance support for families of people in prison

APPENDIX A. RECOMMEN DATIONS BY AUTHORITY

Judiciary


BOP

BOP

BOP
BOP
BOP

BOP
BOP
BOP
BOP


BOP
BOP
BOP
BOP

73

Recommendation 3: Incentivize Participation in RiskReduction Programming
3.1
3.1.a
3.1.b
3.1.c

3.2
3.2.a
3.2.b

Recommendation

Congress

Executive Branch

Risk-reduction programming
Enable individuals not serving life sentences to
earn up to 20 percent off time served by
complying with individualized case plans
Enable individuals, including those serving life
sentences, to earn facility-based privileges
Enable all Residential Drug Abuse Program
participants not serving life sentences to earn
up to one year off time served


Congress



Second Look provision
Enable resentencing for anyone who has served
more than 15 years of their sentence
Develop guidelines for Second Look reviews
and sentence modifications


Congress

Judiciary

BOP
Congress

BOP



USSC

Recommendation 4: Ensure Successful Reintegration by
Using Evidence-Based Practices in Supervision and
Support
Recommendation
4.1
4.1.a

4.2
4.2.a
4.2.b

4.3

74

Prerelease custody and Residential Reentry
Centers (RRCs)
Make recommendations regarding allocation of
RRC beds, alternatives to RRC placement,
and performance-based RRC contracts
Safe and seamless reintegration
Improve coordination by establishing a shared
information system
Share information on risk and needs
assessment, program participation, medical and
mental health status, and aftercare information
Supervised release and early termination

Congress

Executive Branch

Judiciary


BOP Performance,
Accountability, and
Oversight Board
(Board)

BOP


Probation

BOP

Probation


Probation
Judges

APPENDIX A. RECOMMEN DATIONS BY AUTHORITY

Recommendation 5: Enhance System Performance and
Accountability through Better Coordination across
Agencies and Increased Transparency
Recommendation
5.1
5.1.a
5.1.b
5.2
5.2.a
5.2.b

Caseload reporting and performance metrics
Review and expand annual reporting of
caseload data for the corrections and
supervision population
Develop metrics and an ongoing review for
performance measurement; disseminate
recidivism data annually

5.3

Establish BOP Office of Victim Services

5.4
5.4.a

Membership, role, and capacity of the USSC
Expand voting membership of USSC to include
representation of victims, formerly
incarcerated individuals, defense attorneys,
and experts in sentencing and corrections
Routinely monitor and report on the impact of
sentencing changes
Revise 2011 mandatory minimum report

5.4.b
5.4.c
5.5
5.5.a
5.5.b
5.5.c
5.5.d
5.5.e
5.5.f

5.6

Congress

Establish joint Department of Justice/
Judiciary working group (Joint Working
Group) to oversee reforms
Monitor implementation of recommended
legislative and policy changes
Submit an annual report on reform progress
and performance metrics

5.6.a
5.6.b

Allow Pell grants for incarcerated persons

APPENDIX A. RECOMMEN DATIONS BY AUTHORITY

Judiciary





Joint Working
Group
Joint Working
Group

Joint Working
Group
Joint Working
Group


Joint Working
Group


Joint Working
Group

Joint Working
Group

Joint Working
Group
USSC






Congress

USSC

USSC
USSC


Permanent BOP Performance, Accountability,
and Oversight Board (Board)
Work with BOP to develop and promulgate
performance metrics
Monitor development of new risk and needs
assessment and implementation of new
earned time credits
Review BOP data on internal performance,
safety, and security metrics for external
consumption
Oversee development and implementation of
comprehensive 10-year plan to restructure
federal prison system
Review BOP oversight, accreditation, auditing,
and compliance mechanisms
Conduct special studies such as review of
prerelease custody practices and procedures,
focused on RRCs
Collateral consequences and barriers to
reintegration
Review federal collateral consequence laws

Executive Branch

BOP
Board
Board
Board
Board
Board
Board







Joint Working
Group

Joint Working
Group

Congress

75

Recommendation
5.6.c
5.6.d

Congress

Eliminate executive branch criminal history
disclosure on employment applications for
federal contractors
Codify criminal history disclosure changes for
federal employees and contractors

Executive Branch

Judiciary

President
Congress

Recommendation 6: Reinvest Savings to Support the
Expansion of Necessary Programs, Supervision, and
Treatment
6.1
6.1.a

6.1.b
6.1.c
6.1.d
6.1.e

6.2

Recommendation

Congress

Executive Branch

Judiciary

Resources for reform
Fund BOP to implement validated risk and needs
assessment tool, catalog current program
offerings and capacity, and expand necessary
programs and treatment
Fund US Probation to increase staffing,
programs, and services
Fund Courts to establish the Second Look
function
Fund USSC to expand capacity and training
Fund DOJ Office of Justice Programs (OJP) to
incentivize front-end diversion programs,
problem-solving courts, and other alternatives
to incarceration


Congress


BOP



Develop recommendations for reinvesting
savings from the reduced BOP population

Congress

Congress

Probation

Congress

US Courts

Congress
Congress

USSC
OJP

Joint Working
Group

Joint Working
Group

Note: For the following recommendations, congressional action, funding, or approval may be required before they can be fully
implemented by the identified agencies: 1.1.b, 1.4.a, 2.1.a, 2.1.b, 2.3.d, 3.2.b, 6.1, and 6.2.

76

APPENDIX A. RECOMMEN DATIONS BY AUTHORITY

Appendix B. Task Force Member Biographies
J.C. Watts, Jr., Chair
Mr. Watts is the Chairman of J.C. Watts Companies. He was a Member of the US House of
Representatives from 1995 to 2003 (R-OK) and was elected as chairman of the Republican Conference
in 1998. During his tenure in Congress he served on the House Armed Services Committee and
authored the legislation that created the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. Mr. Watts
was the author of President Bush’s faith-based initiative, the Community Solutions Act of 2001, and
developed legislation with Congressman John Lewis to establish a Smithsonian Museum of African
American History.
Alan B. Mollohan, Vice Chair
Mr. Mollohan is a former Member of the US House of Representatives, where he served from 1983 to
2011 (D-WV). During his tenure in Congress Mr. Mollohan was a member of the House Committee on
Appropriations and chaired the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee. He
also served on the House Committee on Ethics as its Ranking Member and as a member of the
Committee on the Budget.
Craig DeRoche (began serving November 2015)
Mr. DeRoche is Prison Fellowship’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy. He was elected
speaker of the House in Michigan in 2004. After giving a 2011 speech at a national forum on addiction,
DeRoche was introduced to Justice Fellowship, the public policy affiliate of Prison Fellowship that
advocates for criminal justice reform based on the principles of restorative justice found in the Bible.
David C. Iglesias
Mr. Iglesias is the Director of the Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics and Economics at Wheaton College.
Previously, he served as a state, federal, and military prosecutor with a focus on national security and
terrorism cases. Mr. Iglesias was the US Attorney for the District of New Mexico from 2001 to 2007. After
an extensive military career, Mr. Iglesias retired from the Navy as a Captain in 2014.
Jim Liske (served until November 2015)
Mr. Liske served as the President and CEO of Prison Fellowship Ministries from 2011 to 2015. In a
previous role as the Senior Pastor of Ridge Point Community Church in Holland, MI, he helped his
congregation start 70 x 7, an organization that helps men and women recently released from prison deal
with addiction recovery challenges, find employment, and transition back into the community.
Jay Neal
Mr. Neal is the Criminal Justice Liaison at the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. He was a
representative (R-Lafayette) in the Georgia General Assembly from 2003 to 2013, where he served as
the chair of the House Committee on State Institutions and Property and vice chair of the House Public
Safety Committee. In 2011, Mr. Neal authored HB 265 establishing the Special Council on Criminal
Justice Reform for Georgians. Mr. Neal also previously served as the Executive Director of the Georgia
Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry.

APPENDIX B. TASK FORCE MEMBER BIOGRAPHIES

77

Laurie O. Robinson
Ms. Robinson is the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason
st

University. She recently served as co-chair of the President’s Task Force on 21 Century Policing. She
has twice served as the Assistant Attorney General for the US Department of Justice Office of Justice
Programs, (1993 to 2000; 2009 to 2012). Between her two terms at the Department of Justice, Ms.
Robinson was affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania in the Department of Criminology. Prior to
joining the Department of Justice, Ms. Robinson was the director of the American Bar Association's
Criminal Justice Section.
Cynthia W. Roseberry
Ms. Roseberry is Project Manager of Clemency Project 2014. She was the former Executive Director of
Federal Defenders of the Middle District of Georgia, as well as the President of the Georgia Association
of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Ms. Roseberry was a founding board member of the Georgia Innocence
Project and has taught at the DePaul University College of Law.
Ricardo M. Urbina
Judge Urbina retired from the federal judge bench in 2012 and is an arbitrator and mediator at JAMS
(Judges Arbitration and Mediation Services). President Clinton appointed him to serve as US District
Court Judge for the District of Columbia (1994 to 2012) and earlier President Reagan appointed him to
serve as District of Columbia Superior Court Judge (1981 to 1994). From 1974 to 1981 Judge Urbina
served on the Howard University Law School faculty.
John E. Wetzel
Mr. Wetzel is the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. He has had more than two
decades of experience in the corrections field, including corrections officer, treatment counselor,
warden, and training academy director. Mr. Wetzel is the vice chair of the Council of State
Governments’ Justice Center’s Executive Board and is also a member of Harvard’s Executive Session on
Community Corrections.

78

APPENDIX B. TASK FORCE MEMBER BIOGRAPHIES

Appendix C. List of Invited Speakers,
Roundtable Participants, and Other
Contributing Organizations and Stakeholders
The following list contains the names of individuals and organizations that provided input to the Task
Force through public hearings, stakeholder roundtables, and interviews.

xxxii

The list also contains the

names of members of the public who provided testimony during an open call for input at the Task
Force’s second meeting, along with individuals who submitted written testimony. Individuals are listed
with their title and affiliation at the time they provided input to the Task Force. Individuals who testified
or provided input in their personal capacity are not listed with their professional affiliation.

Invited Speakers at Task Force Public Meetings
January 27, 2015: Key Federal Criminal Justice Leaders
Kenneth P. Cohen, Staff Director, US Sentencing Commission (delivering a statement on behalf of
Judge Patti B. Saris, Chair, US Sentencing Commission)
Richard S. Hartunian, US Attorney for the Northern District of New York
Hon. Irene M. Keeley, US District Court Judge, Northern District of West Virginia and Chair, Criminal
Law Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States
Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons

March 11, 2015: Voices from Stakeholders Most Impacted by the Challenges
Facing BOP
Susan Howley, Director of Public Policy, National Center for Victims of Crime
Glenn E. Martin, Founder, JustLeadershipUSA
Donald Taylor, Youth Specialist, Missouri Division of Youth Services’ Girardot Center for Youth
Eric O. Young, President, American Federation of Government Employees’ Council of Prison Locals

May 13, 2015: Defense Perspectives on Federal Justice Reform and Innovative
Practices in the Federal Justice System
Patricia Butterfield, Senior Deputy Assistant Director for Reentry Services Division, BOP
George S. Cardona, Chief Assistant US Attorney, Central District of California
xxxii

Individuals who participated in a roundtable for formerly incarcerated people and their relatives, and
individuals currently incarcerated at USP Atlanta who participated in discussions with Task Force members and
staff, were not included because of project confidentiality requirements.

APPENDIX C. LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS

79

Michael J. Elbert, Chief US Probation Officer, Southern District of Iowa
David Patton, Executive Director and Attorney-in-Chief, Federal Defenders of New York
Norman L. Reimer, Executive Director, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Leigh M. Skipper, Chief Federal Defender, Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District
of Pennsylvania

September 9, 2015: Applying Lessons Learned from Georgia’s Justice Reinvestment
Initiative to Federal Reform Efforts
Hon. Michael P. Boggs, Judge, Georgia Court of Appeals and Co-Chair, Georgia Council on Criminal
Justice Reform
Jay Sanders, Deputy Director, Georgia Governor’s Office of Transition, Support, and Reentry
Thomas Worthy, Director of Governmental Affairs, State Bar of Georgia and Co-Chair, Georgia Council
on Criminal Justice Reform

Speakers at March 11, 2015, Public Hearing
Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel, Washington, DC Office, Brennan Center for Justice at
New York University School of Law
Allen Beck
Hon. Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., Chairperson, Organization on Procedural Justice and Racial, Ethnic,
Religious Profiling and National Executive Director, National African American Drug Policy
Coalition, Inc.
Robert Dellelo, Advisor, National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Program Assistant, Criminal
Justice Program, American Friends Service Committee
Jack Donson, Member, Corrections Committee of the ABA and NACDL, Director of Programs,
FedCURE, and Executive Director of Out4Good
Jean Erbst, family member of individual housed in BOP facility
Joseph Fierros, National Policy Liaison, Prisology
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, Policy Advisor, Racial and Economic Justice Initiative, National Center for
Transgender Equality
Diana Goodwin, family member of individual housed in BOP facility
Paul Larkin, Senior Legal Research Fellow, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage
Foundation
Tara Libert, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop
Vicki Lopez
Marc Mauer, Executive Director, The Sentencing Project
Jesselyn McCurdy, Senior Legislative Counsel, Washington Legislative Office, American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU)
Paul Molloy, CEO, Oxford House, Inc.
Patrick J. Nolan, on behalf of Right on Crime, Director of Criminal Justice Reform Project, American
Conservative Union Foundation
Phil Nunes, President, International Community Corrections Association and Chief Programs Officer,
Alvis House
Thomas W. Petersik, Labor Economist, International Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants
(CURE)

80

APPENDIX C. LIST OF C ONTRIBUTORS

Jamie Argento Rodriguez, Chief, Community Defender Division, Public Defender Service for the
District of Columbia
Louis Sawyer, Jr., Co-Chair, DC Reentry Task Force
Dennis Schrantz, Executive Director, Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency
Julie Stewart, President and Founder, FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums)
Courtney Stewart, Chairman, The Reentry Network for Returning Citizens, Inc. and the Mayor’s
Commission on Reentry and Returning Citizens Affairs
Jesse Wiese
Lih Young

Roundtable Participantsxxxiii
Heather Andrews, Director of Residential Reentry Programs, Alston Wilkes Society
Belinda Ashley, Chief US Probation Officer, Western District of Pennsylvania
Eustaquio (Bobby) Babilonia, Chief US Probation Officer, District of Puerto Rico
Hon. Mark W. Bennett, US District Court Judge, Northern District of Iowa
Marlys Big Eagle, Victim Advocate, US Attorney’s Office, Victim Services, District of South Dakota
Doug Burris, Chief US Probation Officer, Eastern District of Missouri
Russell Butler, Executive Director, Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center
David Christensen, Chief US Probation Officer, District of Utah
Steven H. Cook, President, National Association of Assistant US Attorneys (NAAUSA)
Ron DeCastro, Chief US Probation Officer, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
Rosemary DeMenno, Program Manager, International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)
Sam Dennis, Private Practitioner, Georgia
Jeff Dion, Deputy Executive Director, National Center for Victims of Crime
Kevin J. Downey, CEO, Crosspoint, Inc.
Michael J. Elbert, Chief US Probation Officer, Southern District of Iowa
Jeff Fly, CEO, Turning Point of Central California, Inc.
Matthew Fogg, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), and former Chief Deputy US Marshal
Wendell France, Member, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and Deputy
Secretary, Operations, Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services
Hon. John Gleeson, US District Court Judge, Eastern District of New York
Loren A. Grayer, Divisional Vice President, Community-Based Services, GEO Group
Benjamin Greenberg, First Assistant US Attorney, Southern District of Florida
Mark Groves, Rehabilitative and Veterans Services Director, Volunteers of America
Pamela Henley Johnson, President, New Beginnings Treatment Center
Jonathan E. Hurtig, Chief US Probation Officer, District of New Hampshire
Laura Ivkovich, Policy Analyst, Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, US Department
of Justice
Kathryn Jarvis, Chief US Probation Officer, Western District of Kentucky
Betsy C. Jividen, First Assistant US Attorney, Northern District of West Virginia
Robert Kasabian, Executive Director, American Jail Association (AJA)
Kandy Key, Director of Operations, TJ Mahoney and Associates
John Larivee, President and CEO, Community Resources for Justice
James Lawrence, President and CEO, Oriana House
Lawrence J. Leiser, Vice President for Operations and Membership, NAAUSA
xxxiii

Task Force staff attended a meeting of the US Probation and Pretrial Services’ Chiefs Advisory Group.

APPENDIX C. LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS

81

Mitch Lucas, President, AJA, and Chief Deputy, Charleston County Sheriff’s Office
Andrea D. Lyon, Dean and Professor of Law, Valparaiso University Law School
Burton E. Maroney, Chief US Pretrial Services and Probation Officer, Northern District of Ohio
Philip Miller, Chief US Probation Officer, Eastern District of Michigan
Mario Moreno, Chief US Probation Officer, District of Arizona
Bruce Moyer, Counsel and Washington Representative, NAAUSA
Blake Norton, Vice-President and CEO, Police Foundation
Phil Nunes, President, International Community Corrections Association and Chief Programs Officer,
Alvis House
Ifetayo Ojelade, Executive Director, A Healing Paradigm
Shana-Tara O'Toole, Director, White Collar Crime Policy, National Association of Criminal Defense
Lawyers
Timothy Richardson, Senior Legislative Liaison, Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)
Denise M. Robinson, President and CEO, Alvis House
Antony San Giacomo, Chief US Probation Officer, Western District of New York
John G. Selvaggi, Chief US Probation Officer, District of Delaware
Dennis Slocumb, Legislative Director, International Union of Police Associations (IUPA)
Connie Smith, Chief US Probation and Pretrial Services Officer, Western District of Washington
Darrel Stephens, Executive Director, Major Cities Chiefs Police Association (MCCA)
Calvin Thomas, Supervising US Pretrial Services Officer, Central District of California
Sarah Lynne Vasquez, Program Manager, Office for Victims of Crime, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Hon. Martha Vázquez, US District Court Judge, District of New Mexico
Anne Walker, Executive Director, Alston Wilkes Society
Hon. Reggie B. Walton, US District Court Judge, US District Court for the District of Columbia
Steven B. Wasserman, Secretary/Treasurer, NAAUSA
Lisa Wayne, Private Practitioner, Colorado
Raymond J. Weis, President and CEO, Dismas Charities
Hon. Frederick H. Weisberg, Associate Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia
David G. Westrate, Member, Board of Directors and Regional Vice-President, Association of Former
Federal Narcotics Agents (AFFNA)
Steve Woolworth, Vice President, Adult and Juvenile Reentry, Pioneer Human Services

Individuals and Organizations Providing Written
Testimony
American Friends Service Committee
Amnesty International
Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School
Bob Baskin, President, Peace Alliance
Galen Baughman, Board Member, Center for Sexual Justice
Bradley W. Brockman, Executive Director, Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights
Jean Casella, Co-Director and Editor, Solitary Watch
Gail Colletta, President and CEO, CAUTIONclick National Campaign for Reform
Kevin J. Downey, CEO, Crosspoint, Inc.
Nancy Fenton, Executive Director, Episcopal Community Services of Maryland/Jericho Reentry
Program
Melissa Hamilton, Visiting Criminal Law Scholar, University of Houston Law Center

82

APPENDIX C. LIST OF C ONTRIBUTORS

Bruce Hamlin, Member, CAUTIONclick National Campaign for Reform & California Reform Sex
Offender Laws
Damon T. Hininger, President and Chief Executive Officer, Corrections Corporation of America
George Keiser, Keiser and Associates, LLC
Bernard B. Kerik, Retired Commissioner, New York City Police Department
Andrea King, The Kingley Group, LLC
Jerry Lee, President, Jerry Lee Foundation
Evelyn Litwok
A. Charles Lytle, family member of individual housed in BOP facility
Susan L. Lytle, family member of individual housed in BOP facility
Meghan Maury, Policy Counsel, National LGBTQ Task Force
Megan McLemore, Senior Researcher, Health and Human Rights Division, Human Rights Watch
Alan Mills, Executive Director, Uptown People’s Law Center
Peter Moote
National Association of Women Judges
Brian Nelson, Prisoners’ Rights Coordinator, Uptown People’s Law Center
Manasa Reddy, Office Resource Manager, Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights
Josiah D. Rich, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, Brown University
James Ridgeway, Co-Director and Editor, Solitary Watch
Stewart Rowles
Charles Sullivan, President, International CURE
Merle Temple
Joseph B. Tulman, Professor of Law, University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke
School of Law
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Why We Can’t Wait
Cathy Zuniga, family member of individual housed in BOP facility

BOP Employees Interviewed by Task Force Staffxxxiv
Kim Ask-Carlson, Warden, Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) Brooklyn
Kenny Atkinson, Complex Warden, Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Butner
Peter Brustman, Assistant Administrator, Residential Reentry Management Branch
Michael Carvajal, Complex Warden, FCC Pollock
Darlene Drew, Warden, US Penitentiary (USP) Atlanta
Dave Dwyer, Western Sector Administrator, Residential Reentry Management Branch
John Fox, Warden, Federal Transfer Center (FTC) Oklahoma City
Jack Fox, Complex Warden, FCC Lompoc
Tammy Jarvis, Warden, FCC Coleman - USP 1
Mark Kirby, Warden, Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Fairton
Jeff Krueger, Warden, FCI Pekin
Alison Leukefeld, Chief of Mental Health
Cherryl Litsey, Chief of Community Treatment Services
Myra Lowery, Regional Reentry Affairs Coordinator, Southeast Regional Office
Terry Mills, Assistant Eastern Sector Administrator, Residential Reentry Management Branch
xxxiv

The Task Force received information and data from BOP’s Central Office. BOP staff also shared their expertise
throughout the course of the Task Force’s work.

APPENDIX C. LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS

83

Amberly Newman, Supervisory Community Treatment Coordinator, Mid-Atlantic Regional Office
John Oliver, Complex Warden, FCC Florence
Mike Pearce, Warden, Federal Detention Center Houston
Beth Pottios, Executive Assistant, North Central Regional Office
Herman Quay, Warden, FCI Danbury
Monica Recktenwald, Warden, FCI McKean
Barbara Rickard, Warden, Federal Prison Camp (FPC) Alderson
Linda Sanders, Warden, US Medical Center for Federal Prisoners Springfield
Linda Serrano, Reentry Administrator, South Central Regional Office
David Shinn, Warden, MDC Los Angeles
Dennis Stamper, Warden, FPC Montgomery
Chris Zych, Warden, USP Lee

84

APPENDIX C. LIST OF C ONTRIBUTORS

Appendix D. Projected Impact of Selected Task
Force Recommendations
Difference in
population,
FY 2024
Maintain drug mandatory minimum penalties
for only the most serious offenses

Estimated bedyears saved
through FY 2024

Estimated cost
savings through
FY 2024 ($)

-37,300

198,900

Allow judges to sentence below the mandatory
minimum for certain weapon possession
offenses associated with nonviolent crimes

-1,400

5,300

58 million

Clarify good conduct time calculation to enable
sentence reduction of up to 15 percent

-5,200

30,000

330 million

Allow individuals to receive 20 percent off time
served for successful compliance with the
requirements of an individualized case plan

-17,700

63,900

703 million

Expand the eligibility for the one-year
Residential Drug Abuse Program credit to
include all individuals who can fulfill the
program requirements

-4,500

25,700

283 million

Establish a Second Look provision to ensure
judicious use of incarceration and encourage
rehabilitation

-1,300

7,800

86 million

-64,000

316,900

Joint impact

2.188 billion

5.274 billion

Notes: Bed-years saved are rounded to the nearest hundred years, and dollars saved are rounded to the nearest million. The
recommendation to maintain drug mandatory minimum penalties for only the most serious offenses includes the retroactive
application of the Fair Sentencing Act. For more information about how these population and cost estimates were developed, see
appendix E. As noted in the methodology, there is considerable uncertainty about how various government agencies and
individual actors will implement these recommendations. Assumptions regarding impact or eligibility generally err on the
conservative side, resulting in relatively modest projections of prison population reductions and commensurate savings.

Cost and population impact estimates are built around a prison population projection model
prepared by Task Force staff and rely on a series of assumptions about how government agencies and
individual actors will choose to implement Task Force recommendations. The model estimates that if no
further policy changes are made, the prison population would rise to 207,000 by the end of FY 2024.

APPENDIX D. PROJECTED IMPACT OF SELECTED TASK FORCE RECOMMENDATIONS

85

Appendix E. Data Sources and Methods
The findings, recommendations, and projections included in this report are based on 12 months of fact
finding, data analysis, and deliberation. Retrospective information comes from publicly available data,
reports, and testimony; data furnished to the Task Force by the US Sentencing Commission (USSC) and
the Bureau of Prisons (BOP); and communications with staff at several federal agencies. Cost and
population impact estimates are built around a prison population projection model prepared by Task
Force staff, and rely on numerous assumptions about how government agencies and individual actors
will choose to implement Task Force recommendations. Assumptions regarding impact or eligibility
generally err on the conservative side, resulting in relatively modest projections of prison population
reductions and commensurate savings.

Data Sources
In addition to the stakeholder outreach described in the report, staff reviewed publicly available data,
reports, and testimony from the Government Accountability Office, DOJ Office of the Inspector
General, Congressional Research Service, Executive Office for US Attorneys, Administrative Office of
the US Courts (AOUSC), USSC, BOP, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. US Probation and the BOP
responded to Task Force requests with specific data and general information.
Facilitated by the Department of Justice, the USSC and BOP provided comprehensive individual
level administrative data to the Task Force, covering FY 1994–2014. Both agencies’ data included
demographic information. Data from the USSC consisted of sentencing and guideline calculation
information for each person, including criminal history, offense details, and sentence imposed. The BOP
data included information about every person admitted to or released from federal prison in each of
those years, as well as the standing population at the end of each fiscal year. The data included the most
serious offense of conviction, facility location, institutional conduct, security level, program participation, and any updated sentencing information. All told, Task Force staff analyzed millions of records.
Using a validated methodology,

140

Task Force staff

xxxv

linked peoples’ prison information to their

sentencing records. Prison records were successfully linked to sentencing records in 97 percent of
cases, and missing data were not imputed for people without links or whose data were otherwise
invalid. Linking these data sources allowed for analyses that showed how sentencing factors (such as the
imposition of mandatory minimum sentences) directly affect the prison population.

xxxv

The Task Force is particularly appreciative of Jessica Kelly, a senior programmer at the Urban Institute, for
carefully linking these datasets.

86

APPENDIX E. DATA SOURCES AND METHODS

Unless otherwise noted, the source of all statistics presented in this report is Task Force staff
analysis of data provided by the BOP and USSC, FY 1994–FY 2014. Offense information is based on the
most serious offense as determined by the BOP. Findings presented in the report are based on analyses
of the federally sentenced prison population.

Baseline Population Projections
Given the uncertainty of current trends in the federal prison population, the BOP has not recently
conducted a long-term forecast of their population.

141

As a result, Task Force staff created a projection

model for the Task Force that provides a general indication of future trends and the potential impact of
various policy options.
Task Force staff used a micro-simulation prison population projection model to estimate how the
federal prison population might increase or decrease in the coming years. The model predicts, based on
analysis of individual-level FY 2014 data and recent trends, that if there are no additional policy
changes, the prison population may rise again in the coming years. Projections are included through the
end of FY 2024, and cost and bed year estimates of policy proposals are cumulative.
Estimates of the size of the prison population at a given date in the future are determined both by
the number of people currently in federal prison and the number of people who will be admitted
between now and then (all taking into account expected time served). Information about who is
currently in prison is already known; this model projects each individual who will be admitted to federal
prison in future years and how long their time served will be. Task Force staff, using established
methods regarding baseline projections,

142

assumed that future admissions cohorts will not be

substantially different from the most recent admissions cohort.
Task Force staff made several adjustments to improve the accuracy of the baseline projection
model by accounting for observed drops that have occurred since the end of FY 2014 (the most recent
data available to Task Force staff) and recent policy changes. These include changes to prosecutorial
practices and sentencing policy. To account for the lingering effects of budget cuts on prosecutors’
caseloads, we assumed that the number of admissions to federal prison would remain low (as seen in FY
2015), but then slowly build back to FY 2014 levels, except where noted below.


The USSC prospectively and retroactively reduced the guidelines used to calculate sentences
for drug trafficking, reducing most sentences going forward, and accelerating release for
thousands in federal prison. Sentences for people sentenced under these guidelines (in both the
standing population and future admissions cohorts) were reduced in the model pursuant to the
change; these reductions accounted for floors imposed by mandatory minimums.



In the last two years, the number of immigration cases has dropped rapidly. Future admissions
cohorts were adjusted to reflect this drop, but no further decreases are assumed. Changes in
immigration laws or enforcement policies, however, could substantially impact the federal
prison population if they resulted in increased enforcement or mandatory minimum sentences.

APPENDIX E. DATA SOURCES AND METHODS

87



The Attorney General’s Smart on Crime policy already has had a substantial impact on the
number of drug cases being brought that carry a mandatory minimum penalty, and the number
of drug cases being brought has fallen altogether.

143

Based on conversations with US Attorneys

and DOJ officials, we assumed that without additional policy changes the number of prosecutions for drug offenses in coming years may rebound, but not all the way to FY 2014 levels.

Policy Option Population Impacts
Task Force recommendations range from the clarification of the calculation for good conduct incentives
(from 13 percent to 15 percent) to the creation of entirely new mechanisms and metrics to determine
the sentence imposed and time served.
For each recommendation, Task Force staff consulted recent trends in the data, other estimates of
similar proposals, and stakeholder input. Each estimate was modeled by modifying sentencing and time
served information for each individual in the baseline model. For each option, but particularly for
recommendations that create new mechanisms and factors that affect time served, staff needed to
make assumptions given the uncertainty about how government agencies and individual actors would
implement Task Force recommendations in practice.
For example, the Task Force recommends that the BOP develop a risk and needs assessment to
guide case planning. Individuals who make progress in or complete their case plan may be eligible for
earned time credits. While these assessments and plans do not yet exist (the Task Force assumed it
would take about two years for their development), Task Force staff developed proxies to estimate the
number of people who would be eligible for the credits and the extent of each individual’s credit based
on available information about security level and program participation rates. The Task Force assumed
that the credits would begin to accrue following the development of such an assessment, for this
purpose assumed to be two years.
In general, we made best-guess assumptions based on retrospective data analysis and stakeholder
input. Where possible, we erred on the conservative side, resulting in relatively modest projections of
prison population reductions and commensurate savings. As noted in the text of the report, we did not
project the population impact of several of the recommendations.

xxxvi

xxxvi

Population and cost impact estimates are not calculated for recommendations related to: changes to
prosecutorial practice, increased use of alternatives to incarceration (outside of drug sentencing), and changes in
recidivism rates.

88

APPENDIX E. DATA SOURCES AND METHODS

Policy Option Cost Impacts
We do not anticipate further future prison construction or activation. No averted prison construction is
included in the cost-savings estimates.
We use the average marginal cost

xxxvii

xxxviii

of reducing the prison population ($10,994/person/year) to

generate these cost estimates, as opposed to the average cost ($30,620). The average marginal cost
only includes items that vary at the person level, such as medical care and food. The average cost also
includes the general costs of running the BOP, such as staffing facilities. Given the overcrowding and
understaffing in many BOP facilities, the average marginal cost is the most appropriate metric.
We do not anticipate that any single policy option on its own will reduce the federal prison
population to below its rated capacity. We do project that the joint impact of the Task Force’s
recommendations will take the population below its rated capacity by the end of FY 2024. Based on
conversations with BOP executive staff, we anticipate that rather than closing BOP facilities, the BOP
will first transfer individuals out of privately operated facilities. The average annual cost of
incarcerating someone in a private facility is $22,159, so substantial cost savings can be achieved
through these reductions. Our projections (using conservative methodology and assumptions),
however, do not predict that the joint impact of the Task Force’s recommendations will lead to BOPoperated facility closures.
While staffing changes or facility repurposing may be necessary as a result of reduced
overcrowding and Task Force recommendation implementation, our estimates do not account for the
costs or savings associated with these changes. Thus, the formula for projecting cost savings is fairly
straightforward. If, for example, in a given year a policy is projected to reduce the population housed in
BOP facilities by 25,000 people and the population in private facilities by 10,000 people, the projected
cost savings for that year would be:
(25,000 people) × ($10,994/person) + (10,000 people) × ($22,159/person) = $496 million
The dollar estimates of future savings are not adjusted to reflect inflation or real cost increases.
Complete methodology and assumptions are available from Task Force staff upon request.

xxxvii

The FY 2016 congressional appropriation for the BOP (buildings and facilities) includes $444 million for new
prison construction. We do not assume any future expenditure for prison construction.
xxxviii

The BOP describes this as the “budget formulation marginal rate estimate.”

APPENDIX E. DATA SOURCES AND METHODS

89

Notes
1.

Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, Pub. L. No. 113-76 (2014).

2.

Taxy 2015; Taxy and Flynn 2015; Taxy and Kotonias 2015.

3.

Ryan King, Bryce Peterson, Brian Elderbroom, and Samuel A. Taxy, “How to Reduce the Federal Prison
Population,” Urban Institute, October 2015, http://webapp.urban.org/reducing-federal-mass-incarceration/.

4.

“By the numbers: Inmate Statistics and Population Statistics,” Federal Bureau of Prisons, accessed December
31, 2015, http://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/.

5.

“Historical Information: A storied past,” Federal Bureau of Prisons, accessed January 11, 2016,
http://www.bop.gov/about/history/.

6.

Office of the Inspector General 2015c, 1.

7.

Levitt 2004; Spelman 2000, 2008.

8.

Johnson and Raphael 2012; Liedka, Piehl, and Useem 2006; Nagin 2013.

9.

Loughran et al. 2009; Snodgrass et al. 2011.

10. Villettaz, Gilliéron, and Killias 2015.
11. Pew Charitable Trusts 2015a.
12. Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, Title II, Pub. L. No. 98-473, 98 Stat. 1987; Comprehensive Crime Control Act
of 1984, Pub. L. No. 98–473 (1984); (codified as amended at 18 USC § 3551-3586 (1985)).
13. US Sentencing Commission 2011b.
14. 18 USC § 3553 (e) (Thomson Reuters 2015), USSG 5K1.1 (USSC Guidelines Manual 2015).
15. 18 USC § 3553(f) (Thomson Reuters 2015).
16. Bureau of Justice Statistics 1990, 34; US Courts, Statistical Tables for the Federal Judiciary, Table D-4, “US
District Courts—Criminal Defendants Terminated, by Type of Disposition and Offense,” acessed December 31,
2015, http://www.uscourts.gov/statistics/table/d-4/statistical-tables-federal-judiciary/2014/12/31.
17. Bureau of Justice Statistics 1990, 43; US Sentencing Commission 2015a, Table 12.
18. US House of Representatives, “House Judiciary Committee Approves Bills to Address Federal OverCriminalization,” press release, November 18, 2015, http://judiciary.house.gov/index.cfm/pressreleases?ID=ED94519C-05D8-46EB-A5C7-3A8ACC55B5F9; Heritage Foundation, “Overcriminalization,”
accessed December 23, 2015, http://solutions.heritage.org/overcriminalization/.
19. “Federal Criminal Case Processing Statistics,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, accessed December 23, 2015,
http://www.bjs.gov/fjsrc/#.
20. Carson 2015.
21. Bureau of Justice Statistics 1990, 58.
22. Ibid, 59.
23. Fed. R. Crim. P. 35 (b) (Thomson Reuters 2015).
24. “Rules Governing Petitions for Executive Clemency,” US Department of Justice, January 13, 2015,
http://www.justice.gov/pardon/rules-governing-petitions-executive-clemency.
25. 18 USC § 3624(b) (Thomson Reuters 2015); Federal Bureau of Prisons 2006b.
26. Federal Bureau of Prisons 2009.
27. Federal Bureau of Prisons 2015c; Task Force staff communication with BOP, 2016.
28. J. Samuels, La Vigne, and Taxy 2013.

90

NOTES

29. US Sentencing Commission 2004.
30. Doyle 2015; US Sentencing Commission 2015d.
31. Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, Pub. L. No. 114-113 (2015).
32. Charles Colson Task Force staff analysis of Bureau of Prisons data, as presented in James 2014.
33. US Department of Justice 2011–2015a, 2011–2015b.
34. Bland et al. 1990; Cooper and Berwick 2001; Gibbs 1987; Leese, Thomas, and Snow 2006; Wooldredge 1999.
35. Nagin, Cullen, and Jonson 2009.
36. Murray, Farrington, and Sekol 2012; Parke and Clarke-Stewart 2003; Wildeman 2010.
37. La Vigne, Davies, and Brazzell 2008; La Vigne, Shollenberger, and Debus 2009; Shollenberger 2009; Travis,
McBride, and Solomon 2003.
38. Tasca, Rodriguez, and Zatz 2011, 239.
39. Sampson, Raudenbush, and Earls 1997.
40. Clear, Rose, and Ryder 2001.
41. Federal Bureau of Prisons, correspondence with the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, 2016.
42. Federal Bureau of Prisons, correspondence with the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, 2015;
Donson 2015; US Government Accountability Office 1991.
43. Federal Bureau of Prisons 2005.
44. C. Samuels 2015a, 2015b.
45. Federal Bureau of Prisons, correspondence with the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, 2015.
46. Federal Bureau of Prisons 2015a.
47. US Sentencing Commission 2014d.
48. 18 USC § 3553(a) (Thomson Reuters 2015).
49. US Sentencing Commission 2015e.
50. USSG Amendments 713 and 706, as amended by Amendment 711, Appendix C (USSC Guidelines Manual
2015).
51. US Sentencing Commission 2014d.
52. US Sentencing Commission 2011.
53. “Racial Impact Statements,” Sentencing Project, December 2014,
http://www.sentencingproject.org/detail/publication.cfm?publication_id=570&id=.
54. US Sentencing Commission 2015b.
55. Rossman et al. 2011.
56. Ibid.
57. Hawken and Kleiman 2009.
58. US District Court for the Eastern District of New York 2015.
59. Yates 2015.
60. US District Court for the Eastern District of New York 2015.
61. Cardona 2015.
62. US Department of Justice, US Attorneys’ Manual, 9-27.000 Principles of Federal Prosecution.

NOTES

91

63. Kate Stith, Douglas Berman, and Mark Osler, Yale Law School, letter to Loretta E. Lynch, November 9, 2015,
http://sentencing.typepad.com/files/letter-to-hon.-loretta-e.-lynch-from-professor-kate-stith_douglasberman_and-mark-osler.pdf.
64. Executive Office for US Attorneys 2015, Table 2A.
65. C. Samuels 2015a, 2015b.
66. Federal Bureau of Prisons 2005.
67. Gaes 1985; Ostfeld et al. 1987; Paulus, Cox, and McCain 1988; Thornberry and Call 1983, as cited in Travis,
Western, and Redburn 2014.
68. French and Gendreau 2006; Langan and Pelissier 2001.
69. Samuels 2015a, 2015b.
70. Andrews, Bonta, and Wormith 2006, 2011; Andrews and Dowden 2006; Andrews et al. 1990; Bonta and
Andrews 2007.
71. Lowenkamp 2004; Lowenkamp and Latessa 2002, 2005; Lowenkamp, Latessa, and Holsinger 2006;
Lowenkamp, Latessa, and Smith 2006.
72. Federal Bureau of Prisons 2015b.
73. C. Samuels 2015a, 2015b.
74. Ibid.
75. US Government Accountability Office 2012.
76. Ibid.
77. Samuels 2015a, 2015b.
78. La Vigne et al. 2014; Willison et al. 2012.
79. Ægisdóttir et al. 2006; Andrews, Bonta, and Wormith 2006; Grove et al. 2000, as cited in Bonta and Andrews
2007.
80. Holder 2014.
81. Pelissier and Camp, n.d.; Pelissier, Rhodes, et al. 2000, 2001; Pelissier, Wallace, et al. 2002; Rhodes et al. 2001.
82. Cox 2009.
83. Daley et al. 2004; Duwe 2010; Welsh 2007.
84. Federal Bureau of Prisons 2015a.
85. Ibid.
86. “Assess Jurisdiction’s Capacity,” Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence, 2014,
https://www.gmuace.org/tools/assess-capacity#.
87. Cox 2009.
88. Andrews and Bonta 2010; Dowden and Andrews 2004.
89. Andrews and Bonta 2010; Bonta and Andrews 2007; Cullen and Gendreau 2000; Dowden and Andrews 2004;
Drake and Barnoski 2008; Latessa, Cullen, and Gendreau 2002; National Research Council 2008; Petersilia
2004, 2007; Taxman, Soule, and Gelb 1999.
90. La Vigne et al. 2014.
91. Jackson et al. 2010; Sunshine and Tyler 2003.
92. McGinnis et al. 2014.
93. Grassian 2006; Grassian and Friedman 1986; Haney 2003; McGinnis et al. 2014.

92

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94. McGinnis et al. 2014.
95. Ibid.
96. Kim and Peterson 2014; Office of the Inspector General 2015b.
97. McGinnis et al. 2014.
98. National Prison Rape Elimination Commission 2009.
99. Ibid.
100. McGinnis et al. 2014.
101. National Prison Rape Elimination Commission 2009.
102. Bales and Mears 2008; Cochran 2012; Derkzen et al. 2009; Duwe and Clark 2013.
103. La Vigne, Shollenberger, and Debus 2009; Visher, Debus, and Yahner 2008; Visher, La Vigne, and Travis 2004.
104. Naser and Visher 2006; Shollenberger 2009.
105. Federal Bureau of Prisons 2006a.
106. Solomon et al. 2008.
107. Blumstein and Nakamura 2009; Sampson and Laub 2004.
108. Andrews and Bonta 2010; Bonta and Andrews 2007; Cullen and Gendreau 2000; Drake and Barnoski 2008;
Latessa, Cullen, and Gendreau 2002; National Research Council 2008; Petersilia 2004, 2007; Taxman, Soule,
and Gelb 1999.
109. Lawrence 2009.
110. Lawrence 2015.
111. Federal Bureau of Prisons 2011, 4; Lawrence 2009; US Government Accountability Office 2012.
112. Federal Bureau of Prisons, correspondence with the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, 2015.
113. Blumstein and Nakamura 2009; Sampson and Laub 2004.
114. “Office of the Pardon Attorney,” US Department of Justice, accessed January 12, 2016,
http://www.justice.gov/pardon.
115. Durose, Cooper, and Snyder 2014; Grattet, Petersilia, and Lin 2008; National Research Council 2008;
Solomon et al. 2008; Travis 2005.
116. Farabee et al. 2006; Gaes et al. 1999; Porporino et al. 2002.
117. Council of State Governments Justice Center 2014; Gendreau et al. 2000; Hawken and Kleiman 2009; Jalbert
et al. 2011; Kilmer et al. 2013; Lipsey and Cullen 2007; Solomon et al. 2008.
118. Council of State Governments Justice Center 2014.
119. Andrews and Bonta 2010; Andrews, Bonta, and Wormith 2006, 2011; Andrews and Dowden 2006; Andrews
et al. 1990; Bonta and Andrews 2007; Lowenkamp 2004; Lowenkamp and Latessa 2002, 2005; Lowenkamp,
Latessa, and Holsinger 2006; Lowenkamp, Latessa, and Smith 2006; Solomon et al. 2008.
120. Lowenkamp and Latessa 2002, 56.
121. Federal Bureau of Prisons, correspondence with the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, 2016.
122. Burke et al. 2010.
123. Ibid.
124. Carter and Sankovitz 2014, 3.
125. US Courts, “Judicial Business 2014 Tables,” Table E-2.
126. Baber and Johnson 2013, 17.

NOTES

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127. US Probation, correspondence with the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, 2015.
128. Johnson and Baber 2015, 37.
129. Pew Charitable Trusts 2015b.
130. Executive Office for US Attorneys 2015; “By the Numbers: Inmate Statistics and Population Statistics,”
Federal Bureau of Prisons, accessed December 21, 2015, http://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/; “Judicial
Business 2014,” US Courts, accessed January 17, 2016, http://www.uscourts.gov/statistics-reports/judicialbusiness-2014; US Sentencing Commission 2015a.
131. “Federal Justice Statistics Resource Center (FJSRC),” Bureau of Justice Statistics, accessed December 21,
2015, http://www.bjs.gov/fjsrc/.
132. Harer 1994; Johnson and Baber 2015; Rhodes et al. 2013.
133. 28 USC § 994(g) (Thomson Reuters 2015).
134. “National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction,” American Bar Association Criminal Justice
Section, accessed December 21, 2015, http://www.abacollateralconsequences.org/.
135. “Resource Center Restoration of Rights Project,” National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, accessed
December 21, 2015, https://www.nacdl.org/rightsrestoration/.
136. White House, Office of the Press Secretary,“President Obama Announces New Actions to Promote
Rehabilitation and Reintegration for the Formerly- Incarcerated,” fact sheet, November 2, 2015,
https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/11/02/fact-sheet-president-obama-announces-newactions-promote-rehabilitation.
137. US Courts, “Judicial Business 2014 Tables,” Table E-2.
138. Carrie Johnson, “After Thousands of Inmates Released Early, Probation Officers Will Be Watching,” NPR,
November 3, 2015, http://www.npr.org/2015/11/03/454336939/after-thousands-of-inmates-released-earlyprobation-officers-will-be-watching.
139. La Vigne et al. 2014.
140. Kelly 2012; Taxy, Samuels, and Adams 2015.
141. US Department of Justice 2015.
142. US Government Accountability Office 1996, 2009.
143. US Courts 2015.

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