A current practice in the federal prison system is to allow inmates to accrue “good time” credit for model behavior during their incarceration. Prisoners can receive up to 54 days* a year for avoiding disciplinary issues during their time behind bars, which can then be removed from the end of their sentence. The concept is three-fold: prisons would be able to reduce behavioral incidents among the prisoners, encourage progress toward obtaining a high school diploma or GED, while reducing the prison population by allowing those inmates who are ostensibly lower risks for recidivism to return to civilian life.
While some state prison populations have declined in recent years, federal prisons have continued to grow at a rate of about 2.7 percent annually. The annual budget for the Bureau of Prisons has grown from $330 million in 1980 to $6.6 billion in 2012. This has resulted in a prison system that is currently 39 percent over capacity. With tough federal sentencing guidelines, this trend of overcrowded prisons and increasing budgets is likely to continue.
In response, FedCURE, an advocate group for reforming the federal prison system, has proposed increasing the maximum “good time” earned from 54 days a year to 128. Doing so would save the U.S. government $1.2 billion a year, according to FedCURE chairman Mark Varca.
Writing for Forbes magazine, Walter Pavlo endorses the FedCURE proposal, if only for the economic implications. “In a time when we want people off of government assistance,” he says, “the federal justice system is feeding more people into prison.”
Pavlo acknowledges that tough-on-crime sentencing standards are popular with most people, but questions their effectiveness. “There is no doubt that prison sentences make the general public feel good over the short term, but the costs of incarceration go on for the long term. … [T]here has to be a better way to monitor felons (inmates) without having them housed on sprawling government complexes and on the government payroll.”
Of course, there are other reasons to want to encourage good behavior by prisoners behind bars. Avoiding disciplinary issues is a good indication that prisoners are willing to follow behavioral standards upon their release. Also, inmates who receive GEDs while incarcerated are less likely to return to prison.
There are good ways to make the criminal justice system both more effective and more efficient. To learn more about possible reforms to the current criminal justice system, be sure to visit Justice Fellowship’s website.