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Federal Prison Consultant Explains Why Federal Prison Population Has Increased

29th September 2008
By Geoff Mousseau in Legal
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Two primary reasons are behind this phenomenon. Both reasons suggest that this phenomenon arises out of legislation from 20 years ago that created the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and abolished parole.

First, prison sentences are longer so inmates are spending more time in federal prison. For the past 20 years, anyone convicted of a federal crime was sentenced pursuant to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. These were not guidelines in the traditional sense. The Guidelines required federal judges to sentence defendants to terms within limited prescribed ranges. The length of sentences was determined by factors such as the amount of money and number of victims involved in the crime. For purposes of determining the length of a sentence, the perspective shifted away from the offender and onto the victims.

Consistent with the shift away from rehabilitation and toward retribution, Congress repealed parole at the same time it enacted the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. For the past 20 years, federal inmates have been sentenced to substantial terms without the possibility of parole.

The second element behind this phenomenon is the efficiency of federal prosecutions. Faced with the threat of a draconian sentence length, a higher percentage of defendants plead guilty to crimes rather than face the risk of trial. Since the late 1980's, over 80% of people charged with a federal crime spent time in prison. During this time period, several campaigns were waged against specific categories of offenses. For example, we are still fighting the war on drugs and rounding up illegal aliens. The past 20 years has also seen the criminalization of previously non-criminal conduct and a broad expansion of the notion of a conspiracy.

Thus, although there may be a marginal drop in the rate of violent crime, we are imprisoning more non-violent offenders for longer terms without the possibility of parole.

Recent Supreme Court decisions gave some hope that this cycle would be broken. These decisions permitted judges to have more discretion when issuing sentences. Judges must still consider the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. They are now permitted some latitude and are not required to blindly follow the former restricted parameters. Statistics reveal, however, that judges are not varying in any significant way from the Guideline sentencing ranges.

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About the Author
Occupation: Federal Prison Consultant
Mr. Mousseau is an experienced attorney who has tried over 100 jury trials. He also recently spent 15 months in Federal Prison where he worked as the Lompoc Camp “clerk” until early 2008. His duties there included resolving the complaints and problems of over 600 prisoners, with staff contact at all levels of administration. He can answer your questions with compassion and commitment because he has been there.
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