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UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See prorev.com for full contents of our site

February 23, 2010

OBAMA INCREASES PRISON SPENDING WHILE SEEING WAYS TO CUT MEDICARE

Solitary Watch - In the nation with the world's highest incarceration rate, amid talk of dangerously high deficits and budget freezes, the White House proposes dramatically increasing spending on U.S. prisons.

In a recent article in USA Today, Kevin Johnson breaks down the proposed increase in direct spending for the federal Bureau of Prisons (which is on top of the funds passed on to states and localities). As Johnson writes, "the federal government is proposing to dramatically ramp up its detention operations":

The Obama administration's $3.8 trillion 2011 budget proposal calls for a $527.5 million infusion for the federal Bureau of Prisons and judicial security. . . The boost would bring the total Bureau of Prisons budget to $6.8 billion. . . [The DOJ] projects that federal prisons, which now hold 213,000 offenders, will hold 7,000 more by 2011.

Also included in the Justice budget is a proposal to hire 652 additional prison guards and fill 1,200 vacant detention positions, far more than the combined 448 new agents planned for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and U.S. Marshals Service.

Keep in mind that federal spending on prisons is dwarfed by state spending. While the BOP's budget is over 6 billion, the United States as a whole currently spends about $68 billion a year on corrections, mostly at the state level. According to the Drug War Chronicle, corrections spending, on average, "ranks fourth in eating up state budget dollars, trailing only health care, education, and transportation." Figures from the National Association of State Budget Officers show that five states-Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Oregon and Vermont-spend more on prisons they than do on schools.

As Johnson points out in USA Today, "The federal spending plan contrasts with the criminal justice strategies pursued in many cash-strapped states…where officials have closed prisons or allowed for the early release of some non-violent offenders." He quotes Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, who says states have a "greater sense of urgency" to institute policy changes because they have to balance budgets. "That sense of urgency isn't there at the federal level," Mauer says. "Prison expansion slows the momentum for the reconsideration of some of those policies."


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