Prison Costs:

Opportunities Exist to Lower the Cost of Building Federal Prisons

GGD-92-3: Published: Oct 25, 1991. Publicly Released: Nov 5, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO compared federal and state prison construction and operation costs for new medium-security prisons.

GAO found that: (1) federal medium-security prisons opened between 1985 and 1989 cost more per bed to build than similar state prisons; (2) such federal medium-security prisons cost more primarily because federal prisons were designed to provide 55 percent more space per inmate and federal designs called for inmates to be housed in single cells rather than multiple-occupancy cells or dormitories; (3) construction cost indexes indicate that construction costs vary across different regions of the country as a result of differences in labor and material costs; (4) although Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officials stated that the most important factor in determining where to build prisons was proximity to inmates' homes, data show that over 60 percent of inmates were serving sentences more than 250 miles away from home and 35 percent are more than 500 miles from home; (5) new BOP guidelines call for half the cells to be double-bunked to house two-thirds of the inmates, which will reduce per-bed construction costs by increasing capacity relative to cell size; (6) options to decrease construction costs include increased use of inmate labor, reduced square footage in support areas, deleting gymnasiums, dental clinics, and x-ray facilities in adjacent minimum security camps, deleting certain indoor recreation areas, and using cubicles instead of cells to house inmates; and (7) federal prisons cost less to operate per inmate per day than state prisons, since personnel costs comprise the bulk of prison operations costs, and the two federal prisons reviewed generally pay lower salaries and use fewer staff relative to their inmate populations than the state prisons.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: All policy and design standards have been incorporated into the FY 1994 budget.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require the Director, BOP, to reassess current prison standards to determine if the amount of space provided to federal inmates could be reduced.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GAO concluded that action is not intended on this recommendation. Since BOP is increasing the capacity of its institutions without proportionately increasing program space, officials believe such space will be used to its fullest.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require the Director, BOP, to promote the use of multipurpose space, where feasible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: BOP officials contend that it is not necessary to have these costs as specific criteria because economic-based criteria used for site selection relates to the issue. GAO suggested that the recommendation be closed.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require the Director, BOP, to amend prison site selection criteria to include consideration of geographic differences in labor and material costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GAO concluded that action is not intended on this recommendation. BOP officials believe that they already considered this indirectly by taking into account economic factors. GAO suggested that the recommendation be closed.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require the Director, BOP, to consider prevailing labor costs and locality pay differentials when selecting sites for new prison construction.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

 

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