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Task force offers reforms to cut federal prison population by 60,000

Task force offers reforms to cut federal prison population by 60,000
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The Congressionally mandated task force studying the nation’s overcrowded and costly federal prison system Tuesday called for major changes that could reduce the federal prison population by 60,000.

After a year-long investigation, the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections said it was time to abandon a “one-size fits all approach” to incarceration and rehabilitation. 

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The task force recommended that mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders be reserved for “drug kingpins”– those found to have served a leadership role in a large cartel.

It also called on prisons to encourage inmates to participate in programs and treatments proven to lower recidivism by offering them time off their sentences. The force also suggested the Bureau of Prisons should better assess the risks, needs and assets of its inmate population.

The bipartisan panel was established by Congress in 2014 to respond to concerns about the size and cost of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which currently houses 197,000 people and has a budget this year of almost $7.5 billion.

Former Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. (R-Okla.), the task force chairman, said the reforms are projected to save more than $5 billion.

"The BOP has been operating at crisis levels for decades," the task force’s vice chair, former Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.). "As a result, its policies and practices have not kept up with best practice in the field, presenting a missed opportunity to rehabilitate those who are confined in federal prisons and thus promote public safety.”

In it’s final report, the task force said overcrowding, which peaked at 39 percent, recently declined to 20 percent above the system’s top capacity. While still unacceptably high, the task force said it gives prisons some breathing room and creates an opportunity for facilities assessing staffing levels and reallocating workers to enhance safety.