Prez Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to “take bold action to reduce our prison population.” But I cannot think of a single action he has taken over his first 10 months in office, let alone any “bold action,” to reduce the federal prison population. And the latest numbers from the federal Bureau of Prisons tell a notably story of federal prison population growth, not reduction, so far in the the Biden era.
The day after Joe Biden was inaugurated, I authored this post posing a question in the title: “Anyone bold enough to make predictions about the federal prison population — which is now at 151,646 according to BOP?”. That post highlighted notable numerical realties about the the federal prison population (based on BOP data) during recent presidencies: during Prez Obama’s first term in office, the federal prison population increased about 8%, climbing from 201,668 at the end of 2008 to 218,687 at the end of 2012; during Prez Trump’s one term in office, this population count decreased almost 20%, dropping from 189,212 total federal inmates in January 2017 to 151,646 in January 2021.
At the 100 day mark of the Biden Administration, I noted in this post that the prison population in the first few months of the Biden era had held pretty steady. Specifically, as of May 6, 2021, the federal prison population clocked in at 152,085, an increase of just over 500 persons in inauguration day. But now the BOP update of the federal prison population as of Nov. 4, 2021 reports 156,428 “Total Federal Inmates.” Thus, over the last six months, the total federal prison population has grown nearly 3% with more than 4,300 additional inmates.
This prison growth, I suspect, is mostly a function of the federal criminal justice system returning to more case-processing normalcy as COVID concerns recede. (The reduction in COVID concerns also likely is resulting in fewer grants of compassionate release and perhaps a greater willingness of some judges to order the start of prison terms.) Increased concerns about violent crime might also be playing a role, directly or indirectly, in the flow of prisoners in and out of federal facilities.
Though a range of uncertain factors may be driving the significant uptick in federal prisoners over the last six months, I am certainly inclined to now predict that we will see continued increases in the federal prison population unless and until Prez Biden makes an effort to carry out his pledge to “take bold action to reduce our prison population.” I am not holding my breath.