Crime in the Suites: An Analyis of Current Issues in White Collar Defense
Mar 07

The Recession’s Effect on Federal Prison Sentences

On March 2, 2011, Jeff Ifrah, founder of Ifrah Law, and Jeffrey Hamlin, an associate in the firm, published the following article in the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

Prison inmates in the United States may have reason to thank Wall Street for the 2008 recession. The bloated federal deficit is forcing agencies to tighten their budgets, including the U.S. Department of Justice. According to its budget for 2012, the Department of Justice proposes to offset budget increases with cost-cutting measures that include a revision to the way good-time credits are calculated for federal prison inmates.

We think the Department of Justice is on the right track. Giving well-behaved inmates more good-time credit will reduce prison terms and save money, both desirable outcomes. But a close look at the department’s proposal suggests that projected savings may be overstated, if not altogether illusory. And if the country were not heading into the 2012 election cycle, one might wonder why the department decided to advocate for timid cuts at the periphery over fundamental and much-needed change.

On Feb. 14, the Department of Justice released its 2012 budget request for $28.2 billion. The proposal represents a 1.7 percent increase over annualized spending levels under the 2011 continuing resolution. Additional funding in the budget will be used to strengthen national security; preserve the department’s traditional work (e.g., investigation, litigation, and immigration enforcement); maintain correctional facilities; and assist state, local, and tribal law enforcement.

The department plans to offset these increases with $2 billion in program decreases and rescissions, including “component-unique” program savings of $300.9 million. Its “component-unique” cuts include the proposed elimination of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Mobile Enforcement Teams (saving $39.1 million), reductions to the National Drug Intelligence Center (saving $19.2 million), and revisions to the number of good-time credits federal inmates can earn (saving $41 million). To put the numbers in perspective, savings from changes to the good-time credit policy represent 13.6 percent of all “component-unique” savings, 2.1 percent of total offsets, and 0.15 percent of the department’s entire budget for 2012.

With respect to good-time credits, the Department of Justice’s fiscal 2012 strategy paper explains: “The Administration will transmit legislative proposals to amend the statutes governing federal inmate good conduct time credit. The proposed legislation will continue providing inmates with incentives for good behavior as well as to participate in programming that is proven to reduce the likelihood of recidivism. The proposed sentencing reforms include (1) an increase in the amount of credit an inmate can earn for good behavior, and (2) a new sentence reduction credit, which inmates can earn for participation in education and vocational programming. If enacted before FY 2012, these changes could result in significant cost avoidance, potentially up to $41.0 million in FY 2012, by slowing the rate of the federal inmate prison population growth.”

The department’s proposal to advocate for a more liberal policy with respect to good-time credits makes good sense. For one, it will help bring the United States in line with other developed nations by shaving time off of prison terms. It is no secret that the United States incarcerates more people and for longer periods of time than any other nation. According to some estimates, over 1 percent of the adult population in the United States is in prison. Although the United States is home to less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it is home to approximately 23 percent of the world’s prison population. Revising the good-time credit policy could help to improve these numbers.

A more liberal policy for good-time credits will also save money, although it seems unlikely that the Department of Justice’s legislative proposals will result in cost savings of $41 million in 2012. First, the department’s projection rests on a number of questionable assumptions: that Congress will enact legislation at least as favorable as its proposal; that Congress will enact legislation early enough in 2012 for the department to implement changes and realize cost savings; that a sufficient number of federal inmates will qualify for immediate release; and that shorter sentences for existing inmates will not be offset by higher incarceration rates, which could result from the department’s increased expenditures to strengthen national security, prosecute financial fraud, and enforce immigration laws, for example.

To show how unlikely it is that a revised good-time credit policy will save the Department of Justice $41 million next year, a little context is needed. First, a recent BOP report shows that federal prisons house roughly 210,000 inmates. The average prison term is about five years. Each prisoner costs the system about $24,000 per year or $65.75 per day.

Under the BOP’s current policy, prisoners are eligible to receive 54 good-time credits for every 365 days of good behavior. The department’s plan to revise the good-time credit policy reportedly would qualify about 4,000 federal convicts for release — which represents about 1.9 percent of the federal prison population — and another 4,000 convicts over the next 10 years. Data are not available to show the projected cost savings, but a little number crunching provides a rough estimate.

Under the current policy on good-time credits, a five-year sentence may be reduced by an average of 47 days per year. If Congress were to increase the maximum number of annual good-time credits by 50 percent, the average sentence would be reduced by an additional 18 days, which results in savings of roughly $1,183.50 per prisoner per year. If the new policy qualifies 4,000 prisoners to be released 18 days earlier next year, the maximum immediate savings would be approximately $4,734,000 — about 11.5 percent of the department’s projected savings. Approximately 35,000 inmates — 16.7 percent of the federal prison population — would have to qualify for an 18-day reduction in order for the department to realize savings of $41 million.

If Congress enacts the proposed legislation in 2012, the Department of Justice will probably save a fraction of the projected $41 million. It’s better than nothing. But to really make a dent in federal spending — not to mention our outrageous incarceration rates — the department could support more fundamental changes to our penal system. If voters are really behind these spending cuts, they will urge their representatives to consider major revisions to our criminal justice system — like changes to the sentencing framework for nonviolent offenders and decriminalization of ‘victimless’ conduct that, if regulated, would provide much-needed tax revenue. At minimum, more lenient or alternative sentencing options for nonviolent drug offenders would achieve far greater spending reductions than those the department has projected. At maximum, legalization and regulation of increasingly accepted conduct, like online gambling or use of non-addictive ‘soft’ drugs, would not only result in cost savings to the Department of Justice, it might help to replenish the public fisc.

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  • Brenda White says:

    As a tax paying citizen with having a family member in federal prison, I totally support this bill. These prisoners are physcially able to work, support their families that were left behind, take responsibility for their non-violent actions, which include community service and provide a method for the US Government to save billions of dollars at the same time. Why should we have to pay for the housing, food, education and clothing of these individuals that are able to take care of themselves in the communities and support their families instead of more of our tax dollars supporting them also? The emotional breakdown of the families without their main source of revenue and family structure is a daily struggle, one that can not only breakdown a family, but also present many new challenges in regards to health, work and financial pressures. Why not put these people back into the world where they can make a difference, they are not violent, they are not a threat to the community and they can be held accountable without costing the taxpayers millions of dollars. I would like to be a part of the passing of this bill and contribute to bringing back these individuals to their families.

  • Niki says:

    I have been doing a great deal of research on this subject. And the savings would be far more significant that this report states. First of all, as of Sept, 2010, it costs $27,251 per year to house a federal prisoner. If they would cut in half the sentences for first time offenders, have not created any problems while being incarcerated and are not incarcerated for a violent crime, more white collar crime, those over the age of 45, as their medical woud increase with age, if they did this with just 500 prisoners at varying times cutting their sentences in half from 2 years to 5 years, the government would actually save $129,390,000. Interesting isn’t it?
    I believe that putting these individuals back home, getting employment and contributing to society instead of sucking it try woud make a huge difference. As far as family struggles, if the individual incarcerated is the bread winner, they may need to seek public assistance and thereby adding an additional burden on the already strained state governments. Think about it and if you want this to occur write your representatives and tell them to sponsor H. R. 223 an have it brought up for vote and start saving money today.

  • rvp says:

    As a tax paying citizen with having a family member in federal prison, I totally support this bill also. Its about time that these changes are made. Most of the prisoners in the camps are ready to come home, and do right by the law, their families and society. It seems foolish to spend so much money housing them in a facility that they have outgrown. They have learnt their lesson and are ready to live their lives.

  • Vicki Flanagan says:

    I am in full support of this bill. Our federal prison population continues to increase and is filled with many a huge percentage on first time non-violent offenders. Our sentencing guidelines are draconian and are costing the taxpayers billions of dollars each year. THe alternatives to incarceration are enormous, but precluded from consideration because of these guidelines. Lives are being destroyed inside and out by the enormity of the sentences with no parole and very limited good time credit. It is believed that the federal inmate is provided outstanding educational opportunities, excellent medical care and vocational training. That is absolutely not true. There is a GED program in all facilities, but the classes are taught by other inmates with the alleged oversight coming from a qualified educator. There are no vocational programs that could provide an inmate with new skills. The medical and dental care is often times less than what the indigent person on the streets could receive. Inmates are neglected and provided no care or care by medical personnel that is often times serving a sentence themselves, have had their license suspended or revoked or simply are not qualified to handled the enormous case loads as a result of the exploding inmate population.
    The federal prison system has a Residential Drug Program that is overrun and again being administered by unqualified personnel. Inmates often lose the opportunity for the program due to overcrowding.

    This increase in good time credit needs to come forth quickly … the inmates that would be released can be monitored with little effort and at little cost to the taxpayer.

  • Lisa M. Carre says:

    I am in favor of this bill. federal prisons are over crowded and it would be a great saving to the federal government.

  • ENK says:

    When will we know I am praying for this bill to pass, can someone let me know when will we know or how can we support it???

  • ENK says:

    When will we know if this bill passes??? How can I find out and how can I support it??? I am praying for this bill to pass.

  • Tyranika Mosely Jackson says:

    I support this bill to the fullest extent of support and praying it passes soon cause my husband is incarcerated and our little family needs him home so he can get his life back on track and start doing the right thing cause he is ready. Me and his 4 kids misses him soo much.

  • anne says:

    Is there ANYTHING being done in 2011 to allow inmates to earn more “good time?”

  • Michelle says:

    I am in full support of this bill my husband is incarcerated in a federal prison were the camp should house 200 inmates but house’s 399 inmate my husband is a good man and is missed by his family. I feel the family that is left behind are the ones really doing the time. Give the inmates more good time and take the money that is saved instead of housing these imate’s and put it towards are school and our kids education.

  • Rene says:

    I too am in favor of this bill. Some of you asked how you can show your support here is a little information in regards to that :

    Please take a moment to look at this webpage and support the new bill that could be passed. This would increase the “GoodTime” that federal inmates could get, thereby reducing the time they spend in jail and reducing the tax payer burden of having to support them. Please contact your representative and pass along to your friends for their support as well.

    Or you can go directly to this website;

    Copy and Paste the following

    Hello, this is (your name). I understand that H.R. 1475, which would restore the former system of good time allowances toward service of Federal prison terms, was introduced on March 12th by Rep. Danny Davis, and is now in the Judiciary. I am fully in support of this bill and I am writing to ask that you vote it out of committee, co-sponsor it, and do what you can to support it becoming policy.

    Thank you


  • LaToya Bryant says:

    I too am in support of this bill. Most of these inmates have been sentenced to more time then what the crime called for. I understand that prison is a business but the money that they make off of the inmates is nothing compared to the money that will be saved if they pass this bill. It will be beneficial to all if the inmates are able to come out and get jobs and help support their families rather then have the families depend on governement assistance because we all know that a one parent household struggles more financially then a two parent household.

  • gail wingo says:

    i think this bill needs to pass my husband is in prison for child support and it is hard i get ssi and my husband worked to pay the bills it is really hard on me

  • Maryjose says:

    I also agree that this bill be passed. I feel these inmates are sometimes lead into had times and make mistakes,and their lives and families are destroyed with outrageous sentences. Instead they should be given oppurtunity for more good time credits and rehabilitation.

  • kashi ross says:

    There is no reason this bill shouldnt pass,we all could benefit from it,especially a struggling U.S.government

  • Dawn Mrzlak says:

    I totally agree this law should be passed the prisons are overcrowded and so much tax payers money is being wasted on housing prisoners that have done so much time already…If they are serving for a nonviolent crime why not let them get back out into the real world and get a job and support themselves and their families…Even if they have to go out on paper for awhile at least give them a chance to prove themselves…So please really look at the big picture and give these people a chance to start a new life…

  • StephanieH says:

    I am praying our legislation passes this bill. When sentencing is imposed upon an inmate, the government fails to realize, the amount of time one has to serve, is a reflection on how long the government will have to provide support for the inmate as well as his family. So not only is the government paying to house the inmate, but are spending just as much to provide, food, shelter, and medical care for the inmate’s family members. My husband was sentenced to 20 years and is a 1st time offender. We have 3 kids and the youngest is disabled. My husband takes full responsibility for his actions and has apologized to his family as well as the government. It is in our nature, as humans, to make mistakes. I believe everyone should get a second chance in life and I would give some at least a 3rd chance. I do believe being incarcerated has helped my husband realize the importance of obeying the laws and more important to always put family first above everything.

  • smc says:

    I am in total support of this bill being passed as a tax paying citizen. i say this can only help.

  • misty says:

    i totally agree this bill should be passed butnthey been talkin about this forever and still no change just a bunch of talk…when is this spose to finally be decided.if anyone knows please emAil me at thank you

  • I to have family members in federal prison and pray day and night that this bill passes, we need our son’s and daughters home; thier kids need them home and we the parents of these inmates need them home. Maybe if this law passes my mother will still be alive to see her first born grandson come home.

  • MichelleW says:

    I have a fiance in Federal Prison and I pray everyday that this bill passes too! It consumes my mind getting him out. He has now been in for 14 of his 20 year sentence. He has gained MANY qualifications and certificates in prison and is ready for a second chance. Please Please Please whoever is reading this and if u can help all of us with loved ones in prison that is ready to make a change please make it happen. He is a changed man and is ready to be a member of society.

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About Ifrah Law

Crime in the Suites is authored by the Ifrah Law Firm, a Washington DC-based law firm specializing in the defense of government investigations and litigation. Our client base spans many regulated industries, particularly e-business, e-commerce, government contracts, gaming and healthcare.

Ifrah Law focuses on federal criminal defense, government contract defense and procurement, health care, and financial services litigation and fraud defense. Further, the firm's E-Commerce attorneys and internet marketing attorneys are leaders in internet advertising, data privacy, online fraud and abuse law, iGaming law.

The commentary and cases included in this blog are contributed by founding partner Jeff Ifrah, partners Michelle Cohen and George Calhoun, counsels Jeff Hamlin and Drew Barnholtz, and associates Rachel Hirsch, Nicole Kardell, Steven Eichorn, David Yellin, and Jessica Feil. These posts are edited by Jeff Ifrah. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments!

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