A group of civil liberties and criminal justice reform groups is calling for a change in direction at the federal Bureau of Prisons, following the retirement of BOP head Harley Lappin, appointed during the Bush Administration. Under Lappin, the BOP continued to grow, adding new prisons and prisoners at a rate even higher than that of the states, according to analyses by the Sentencing Project and the Pew Center on the States.  Since 1995 alone, the number of federal inmates has more than doubled, to over 211,000. More than half of these prisoners are serving time on drug charges, and another 10 percent are held on immigration violations. In all, more than 72 percent are nonviolent offenders with no history of violence, and 34 percent are first-time nonviolent offenders.

Yet, as we wrote recently, the BOP’s FY 2012 budget request includes funds to open new maximum security prisons in Alabama and New Hampshire, and to acquire and renovate a new supermax prison in Thomson, Illinois, which would add and add up to 1,600 solitary confinement cells. It is in response to such plans that the consortium of groups is urging Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a reformer who will take the BOP in a different direction. According to an announcement issued by the 24 groups:

Two dozen more organizations have called on Attorney General Eric Holder to name a reformer to head the federal Bureau of Prisons. The position is vacant with the retirement of Harley Lappin. In a letter to Holder, groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, and Sentencing Project urged the appointment of “an  individual with experience in systems reform and change. She or he must also have the courage and commitment to lower recidivism rates, improve conditions in BOP facilities, focus on rehabilitation and re-entry, and improve public safety through reforms in correctional practice and strategy.”

The groups said that currently, the prison bureau “functions at nearly 140%  capacity where prisoners are warehoused, rather than rehabilitated, and both staff and prisoners are routinely put at risk due to dangerous conditions. Unfortunately, the agency has not adapted its management strategy to take full advantage of the diverse population reduction authorities and cost-savings measures given to it by Congress, such as: expanded half-way house placement, compassionate release, and sentence reduction programs like good time and drug program participation. The consequence of this inaction is that the BOP has grown more bloated and more dangerous over time.” The American Bar Association, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Human Rights Watch made similar
points to Holder in recent letters.

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