Federal Prisons:

Revised Design Standards Could Save Expansion Funds

GGD-91-54: Published: Mar 14, 1991. Publicly Released: Apr 25, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO determined whether the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was using reasonable and cost-effective measures of prison system inmate capacity in determining the extent of prison crowding and the need for additional facilities.

GAO found that: (1) BOP based its determination of rated capacity in existing facilities on a single-bunking standard; (2) the incidence of double-bunking varied widely among the facilities, but BOP used double-bunking extensively; (3) despite operating at 60 percent over rated capacity, BOP had not experienced unmanageable problems; (4) there was no evidence that double-bunking led to more incidents such as escapes or violence; (5) no federal statutes or regulations prohibited double-bunking; (6) while the American Correctional Association (ACA) holds to a single-bunking standard, adherence is not a prerequisite to ACA accreditation provided that other key standards are followed; (7) BOP adopted a double-bunking standard for new medium-security facilities, and has used the new standard in preparing its expansion plans for the fiscal year (FY) 1992 budget; (8) BOP created a task force to review and update the capacity of existing facilities; (9) BOP could save substantial construction and operating costs by using a double-bunking standard to measure the rated capacity of all new and existing facilities; and (10) budgetary savings could be achieved by adopting a double-bunking standard requiring a cell size of less than 90 square feet and extending it to all cells of the prescribed size in a facility.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BOP has taken action to reassess its rated capacity based on double-bunking and reflected capacity changes in its 1993 budget request. An accomplishment report is being drafted.

    Matter: Congress should consider making funding of the BOP FY 1992 budget request for new facility construction contingent on BOP completing and justifying its transition to standards that include double-bunking wherever feasible.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BOP is revising its design standard to double-bunk all cells and rooms in low and minimum facilities and increase double-bunking in high security facilities from 0 to 25 percent of the cells and rooms. 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 and proposed BOP design standards to ensure that its expansion plans and budget requests are premised on the use of standards that provide for double-bunking where feasible and limit single-bunking to those locations where double-bunking is clearly not feasible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BOP is using the new policy to set capacity and this capacity will be used in developing future expansion plans. The $100 million monetary benefit is based on BOP implementation of the new policy.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require the Director, BOP, to use the revised standards to determine the rated capacity of the federal prison system and justify the need for new facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice


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