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Highlights

Over the last 10 years, the cost to confine federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) inmates in non-BOP facilities has nearly tripled from about $250 million in fiscal year 1996 to about $700 million in fiscal year 2006. Proponents of using contractors to operate prisons claim it can save money; others question whether contracting is a cost-effective alternative. In response to Conference Report 109-272, accompanying Pub. L. No. 109-108 (2005), this report discusses the feasibility and implications of comparing the costs for confining federal inmates in low and minimum security BOP facilities with those managed by private firms for BOP. GAO reviewed available data on a selection of 34 low and minimum security facilities; related laws, regulations, and documents; and interviewed BOP and contract officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Bureau of Prisons 1. To help Bureau of Prisons (BOP) evaluate alternatives for confining inmates in low and minimum security facilities, and recognizing that there is a cost associated with gathering and analyzing data needed to compare costs across BOP and private facilities, the Attorney General should direct the Director of BOP to develop a cost-effective way to collect comparative data on low and minimum security facilities confining inmates under BOP's custody and design and conduct methodologically sound analyses that compare the costs of confining inmates in these facilities in order to consider contracting among other alternatives for low and minimum security confinement, consistent with Office of Management and Budget requirements.
Closed - Not Implemented
In fiscal year 2007, we reviewed and reported on the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) data to assess alternatives for acquiring low and minimum security facilities. We reported, among other things, that because of projections of future growth of inmate populations, BOP will need to continue to acquire additional capacity; however BOP does not have the data necessary to do a methodologically sound cost comparison of its various alternatives for confining inmates in low and minimum security facilities. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials reported that they believe BOP collects the necessary cost information to perform cost comparisons and is, therefore, already complying with the recommendations. Specifically, they said BOP's bedspace arrangements with the private sector, obtained via firm fixed price competitive contracts, represent the full cost to the government and meet growing bedspace needs. According to DOJ, BOP's strategy for procuring bedspace in the foreseeable future will be through competitively awarded private prison contracts, consistent with OMB's Program Assessment Rating Tool guidance and direction. Also according to DOJ, the Department considers this recommendation closed and does not plan to take any additional actions to address it. However, to fully address this recommendation, BOP would have to develop a cost-effective way to collect data on low and minimum security facilities and design and conduct methodologically sound analyses. These analyses would compare the costs of confining inmates in order to consider contracting among other alternatives for low and minimum security confinement, such as building new facilities, buying existing facilities, or expanding facilities already operated by BOP. Therefore, we are closing this recommendation as not implemented.

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