Skip to content

Congress cuts federal prison infrastructure funding

Bureau of Prisons told Congress it has a maintenance and repair backlog of about $3 billion

Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month.
Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Congress sharply cut back on infrastructure funding for the federal prison system in fiscal 2024 even though maintenance needs have ballooned and a federal watchdog says the system is in critical need of more resources.

The head of the federal Bureau of Prisons told Congress last month that the agency has a maintenance and repair backlog of about $3 billion.

Congress, in the six-bill fiscal 2024 package signed by President Joe Biden earlier this month, appropriated $179.8 million to the system’s buildings and facilities account — a 38 percent cut from the $290 million the system received in the prior fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is asking Congress for $260 million for prison infrastructure in its fiscal 2025 budget. A Justice Department official said the items selected in the fiscal 2025 budget request are part of a “multi-year building program” and reflect where investments are most critical.

The inspector general report last year found BOP for years lowballed modernization and repair budget requests to Congress, a pattern that limits the amount of funding it receives and weakens its ability to fix deteriorating infrastructure.

The agency oversees about 120 institutions, with about 57 percent being over 30 years old and almost one-third being over 50 years old, according to a Justice Department budget document.

The inspector general report found the BOP lacks the funding to keep up with its maintenance repairs, and the cost of an unfinished project only increases the more it’s delayed due to inflation and further deterioration.

Brandy Moore White, national president for the American Federation of Government Employees’ Council of Prison Locals, said the fiscal 2024 cut is “incredibly devastating.”

“It’s far below what we need to maintain the prisons, let alone improve them,” White said.

There are roofing and mold problems in the prison system, White said, along with issues with their indoor temperature control. Infrastructure problems hold the potential to create a hostile setting for both prisoners and correctional officers, leading to a dangerous environment, she said.

“You can imagine being in Arkansas or Texas when it’s 110 degrees outside and air decides to quit working for a day. Tempers flare, it gets very heated, not just the temperature but also emotions,” White said.

Emergency help

Of the $290 million BOP received in fiscal 2023 for its building and facilities account, $108 million came through regular appropriations and an additional $182 million was provided through emergency funding.

For the fiscal 2025 budget request, Jolene Ann Lauria, assistant attorney general for administration, said the department worked in concert with the inspector general’s office on some of the “targeted increases” for prison infrastructure.

Lauria said it’s hard to compare one year to the next when it comes to “one-time construction projects,” and she pointed to a law that established new discretionary spending caps in fiscal years 2024 and 2025.

“These investments reflect a thoughtful, serious approach to what can be achieved in a single given year and where the investments are most critical, and then also given the overall environment of the Fiscal Responsibility Act,” Lauria said.

The inspector general’s office previously has documented prison infrastructure problems.

After an unannounced visit to a federal prison in Florida in May 2023, the inspector general’s office said they found a sink detached from the wall, an electrical outlet with apparent fire damage and “feminine hygiene products” that were being used to soak up water from leaking windows.

The watchdog report also said that female housing unit roofs “routinely leak” and “that all five general population housing unit roofs need to be replaced.”

“Many female inmates live in housing units in which water frequently leaks from ceilings and windows on or near their living spaces,” the report said.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., raised prison infrastructure concerns at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month, as Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters testified before the panel. He cited a figure that showed Congress appropriated $59 million for BOP modernization and repair in fiscal 2022.

“I’ve watched you now as a professional struggle mightily to meet the demands that are put on you in a moment where Congress is not giving you the resources necessary to do your job even, in facilities that are outrageously decrepit,” Booker said.

Peters responded that the maintenance and repair backlog at the agency had grown since they last reported a $2 billion backlog.

“It is now closer to $3 billion because we continue to have roofs that are crumbling. We continue to have HVACs that have stopped working,” she said.

Recent Stories

Democratic lawmaker takes the bait on Greene ‘troll’ amendment

Kansas Rep. Jake LaTurner won’t run for third term

At the Races: Impeachment impact

Capitol Lens | Striking a pose above the throes

Democrats prepare to ride to Johnson’s rescue, gingerly

Spy reauthorization bill would give lawmakers special notifications