'Skyrocketing costs': Prisoner advocates push Biden to close 20 federal prisons

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A prisoner advocacy group on Tuesday launched what it says will be a multiyear effort to convince government officials to close more than a dozen federal prisons, which the California-based nonprofit says are wastes of taxpayer money.

Shutting down 20 of the country’s 122 federal prisons would save more than $1 billion each year, according to the Dream Corps.

Although the federal prison population is at its lowest point in decades, the Biden administration has requested $7.8 billion for the Bureau of Prisons in its budget proposal for next year. The proposal represents a net increase of $14 million compared to last year, excluding the $300 million one-time pandemic-related supplemental appropriation.

Janos Marton, national director of Dream Corps, criticized the budget proposal on Tuesday.

“Even as the number of people in federal prisons continues to go down dramatically, the Bureau of Prisons continues to build new facilities, expand new ones, and ask for even more money — all at skyrocketing costs to American taxpayers,” Mr. Marton said in a statement.

“The federal prison system is a very expensive system,” said Candance Wesson, a member of the Federal Prison Closure Advisory Board, another prisoner advocacy group backing the push for closures. “The time is now to reshape and reform our federal prison system, including closing federal institutions, reallocating the billions of dollars that are poured into these systems, and instead investing those dollars into treatment and reentry services.”

There are 153,996 total federal inmates as of Tuesday, 129,638 of whom are in BOP custody and the rest are in private or other types of facilities, according to the BOP website.

Several of the federal prisons are unsafe to house inmates and at least 20 complexes are more than 75-years-old, according to Amanda Hall, campaign director of Dream Corps.

“Many facilities are in decrepit condition, exposing people behind bars to unsanitary facilities, mold, regularly spoiled food and unsafe drinking water, poor air quality, extreme temperatures, and rampant human rights abuses,” Ms. Hall said in a statement Tuesday.

The “tip of the iceberg,” the group says, is that at least 40% of inmates in federal prisons have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The initiative comes after President Biden signed an executive order in January directing the Justice Department to stop renewing contracts with private prisons, which Dream Corps argues is not enough.

“The Biden Administration’s executive order relating to private prisons will only close a handful of prisons in the next few years,” Dream Corps said in a statement on Tuesday. “Now is the time to close federal prisons and shrink the size of our federal incarceration system.”

The five-year campaign will include a push to establish a federal commission to orchestrate the closures and efforts to raise awareness about the “abusive individual facilities.”

“There has never been a jail or prison closure campaign at this scale,” the nonprofit said. “While many organizations work on individual federal criminal justice issues, none are focused on the wholesale closure of federal facilities, which would permanently shrink the capacity of the system to cage people.”

Dream Corps is an Oakland, California-based nonprofit established in 2015 which describes itself as a bipartisan effort to decrease both incarceration and crime rates. 

The campaign is supported by other prisoner advocacy groups including The Sentencing Project, Prison Scholar Fund, The Community, Tzedek Association and Revolutionary Love Project.

The Washington Times reached out to the Bureau of Prisons, which declined to comment on the campaign.

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