Four Horrifying Facts About Our Overcrowded Federal Prison System

The number of people
incarcerated by the federal government has increased roughly 500
percent since the 1980s, from 42,000 in 1987, to 218,000 in 2011.
But according to a recently released GAO report titled “Growing
Inmate Crowding Negatively Affects Inmates, Staff, and
Infrastructure,” the capacity of the federal incarceration system
has failed to keep pace. Facilities are now 39 percent overcrowded
and growing more so by the day.

Overcrowding is making the prison experience–bad enough under
normal conditions–exponentially worse for offenders of all
stripes: those with families on the outside; those who will one day
have to seek gainful employment and a new life outside the prison
industrial complex; and those who will spend the rest of their
lives behind bars.

Here are four awful consequences of prison overcrowding
highlighted by the GAO.

4.) Almost as many people are enrolled in education and
job-training programs as are waiting to get into them

Prisoners need marketable skills if they’re to have any hope of
starting a new life outside of prison. Yet federal prisoners with
subpar reading skills can’t even get into basic literacy classes.
According to the GAO’s report, waiting lists for federal prison
programs contain almost as many people as the programs themselves.
For instance: Between 13 and 14 percent of inmates participated in
literacy programs between 2008 and 2012; yet during that same
period, 12 percent of inmates were on waiting lists for literacy
programs. The increasing wait times for education and job training
programs is system-wide.

Likewise, inmate employment opportunities within prisons are decreasing even as
the number of prisoners rises. Paying between 23 cents and $1.15
per hour, jobs at UNICOR factories, a government-owned company that
uses prison labor to manufacture goods solely for purchase by
government agencies, are the highest paying ones available to
federal inmates. Yet the number of UNICOR factories has fallen from
a peak of 110 in 2007, to 88 in 2011; and the number of UNICOR jobs
has fallen from 23,000 in 2007, to 14,200 in 2011. Due to

of the company’s ability to

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