Regular readers are now used to my regular monthly posts about the federal prison population based on Bureau of Prison data. These posts of late have regularly noted significant and steady population growth in recent months In this post on March 18, I noted that the federal prison population had grown by over 1,100 persons in just four weeks from mid February and mid March. And this post on April 8 noted that it then took only three weeks for another 1000+ person surge of federal prisoners between mid March and early April.
The federal Bureau of Prisons now has updated reporting of “Total Federal Inmates” as of May 12, 2022, and these basic growth trends are continuing. As of April 7, 2022, the official BOP count was at 155,274, but now as of May 12, the total number of federal inmates is at 156,939. So, in just the last five weeks, there has been another 1,655 more federal prisoners added to the population compared to the total in early April. If this pace of federal prison growth continues in coming months, it is quite possible that 2022 could experience a level of federal incarceration growth we have not seen in decades.
As I have said before, I am inclined to guess that this recent spike in the number of federal prisoners reflects some “return to normal” operations for the federal criminal justice system, with fewer COVID-related delays in cases and prison admissions (and fewer COVID-related releases). Such a development (especially after 2021 being a year of notable federal prison population growth) would be particularly significant given that candidate Joe Biden promised to “take bold action to reduce our prison population” and to “broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes.” To his credit, since my last posting on prison population, Prez Biden did grant 75 commutation to federal inmates (most of whom were already serving their time on home confinement). But a one-time grant of 75 clemencies necessarily looks somewhat paltry in the face of week-over-week-over-week-over-week federal prison population growth averaging more than 300 persons.