The Federal Prison System Must Sever the Link Between Population and Budget
When the CARES Act was enacted March of 2020, William Barr, then attorney general, sent out a memorandum that stated he had expanded powers to determine who should be allowed to serve their sentence in home confinement. The criteria from the memo were any federal prisoners that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) deemed fit to continue serving within home confinement.
The BOP’s budget is directly tied to the number of prisoners within the federal prison system. Six days after taking office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the Attorney General to not renew their contracts with privately owned prisons.
According to a Government Executive article by Courtney Bublé, while prison crowding is 6% under throughout the system, it is 20% over capacity in high security prisons. This number is down from 52% over capacity at the end of the Fiscal Year in 2014.
Due to the prison population decreasing naturally and the CARES Act allowing some of the current incarcerated population to serve at home, the overall prison population is going down and coupled with President Biden’s executive order, the BOP should require a smaller budget.
However, this is not the case, or so Shane Fausey, national president of the Council of Prison Locals C-33, a division of the American Federation of Government Employees, says. Mr. Fausey states that the budget being tied to the inmate population is harming the ability to do their jobs because of staffing issues and assorted issues with the inmate population such as violence of contraband. Merrick Garland noted that the BOP has made a significant number of hires and that should, in the long run, fix the understaffed, forced overtime practices that are currently happening within the prison system.
However, as Mr. Fausey stated, the BOP budget is directly tied to the number of prisoners within the federal prison system. Therefore, the BOP is incentivized to keep the population as high as possible. Even though President Biden’s executive order and the CARES Act are designed to decrease the prison population, the BOP has no reason to release inmates if it threatens their funding.
This is evidenced by Lynn Espejo, an inmate in Oklahoma City who was chosen to serve the remainder of her sentence in home confinement. During her time in prison, Ms. Espejo, serving for fraud, laundering, and filing false returns, was running a blog through a third party. This blog detailed life through her trial and throughout her prison sentence.
Ms. Espejo had requested a transfer to a prison closer to her home, and it was requested, though she was scheduled to transfer to a prison in Alabama, even farther than the original prison in Texas. During the transfer process, COVID took over and she was held in Oklahoma City. Eventually, she was granted home confinement as she was a low security risk offender with a high-risk of catching COVID.
She did not stop writing her blog and eventually expanded to doing podcasts remaining in contact with prisoners she had come to know through her time serving. The BOP said that she could no longer do her radio show, appear on podcasts or write on her blog without consent from the BOP. Ms. Espejo did not concede and pushed back, because of this, she was ordered to be returned to serve her in sentence in prison. However, she had requested a release to serve the rest of her term under supervised release. This motion was granted, and she returned home.
Lynn Espejo is a unique case, but she is not alone. These stories are not uncommon as the BOP has every incentive to keep their inmates in the building. In Ms. Espejo’s case, the defiance against the BOP would have been enough to send her back to prison with less or no leniency about release going forward. However, not every case ends as fortunately as hers does. There are inmates who will be returned to prison and stay there for the duration of their sentence and will keep the prison population numbers high, all because the valuing of money is more important than human lives.