The Unnecessary Risk Of Incarcerating Minimum Security Inmates
By Walter Pavlo - Forbes
June 28, 2023
Our political leaders banter back and forth about incarcerating members of the opposite party. In fact, phrases like “toss them in prison” or “lock’em up” have been so misused that we forget the responsibility that comes with taking people into custody and assuming the risks associated with their care while in custody. The incarceration of minimum security inmates reflects an unnecessary that prosecutors and judges push onto the the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
The BOP houses 160,000 inmates of various security levels and 23,000 of these are minimum security, 56,000 are low security. Minimum inmates are usually housed at camps, many of which do not even have a fence. Inmates at these facilities routinely have jobs outside of the compound, some even in the community that surround the prison. They have jobs of driving vehicles, heavy equipment, shopping at local stores for supplies to support the prison and some even furlough transfer on commercial airlines or buses to go to another prison to complete their sentence. With all this lack of security, it begs the question of why these inmates are in put into prison institutions at all when other means of supervision exist.
The BOP is in a crisis with staffing shortages, corruption of staff, placement on Government Accountability Office’s high risk list, and being one of the worst places to work among US government agencies. Within these problem areas, the BOP did a commendable job in placing many minimum security inmates on home confinement as part of its response to reduce prison populations and remove health vulnerable inmates to allow them to serve their sentences on home confinement. Between March 26, 2020, and January 23, 2023, the BOP placed in home confinement a total of 52,561 inmates, mostly minimum security and some with many years to serve on their sentence. The program had a 99% success rate with most inmates successfully completing their sentences without an incident.
Supervision of inmates on home confinement is also less costly for the BOP than housing inmates in secure custody. In Fiscal Year (‘‘FY’’) 2019, the cost of incarceration fee for a inmate in a Federal facility was $107.85 per day; in FY 2020, it was $120.59 per day. By contrast, according to the BOP, an inmate in home confinement costs an average of $55.26 per day—less than half the cost of an inmate in secure custody. Although the BOP’s decision to place an inmate in home confinement is based on many factors, where the BOP deems home confinement appropriate for a particular inmate, that decision has the added benefit of reducing the agency’s expenditures. This type of cost savings was among the intended benefits of the First Step Act, when Congress passed it citing a need to ‘‘control corrections spending, manage the prison population, and reduce recidivism.”
There are inherent risks in prison, even in minimum security facilities. Falling out of bunkbeds, getting hurt while working, poor diets, substandard medical care, communicable diseases and unnecessary lockdowns are all part of camp life. Some minimum security inmates with severe health issues are housed in secure medical facilities, which comes with an even higher cost of incarceration.