The Department of Justice has responded to a Freedom of Information Act request from FDL News for documents estimating the costs that the federal government will not have to incur if the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014 is passed.

The 12 page draft memo provided to FDL indicates that the DOJ estimates the cost avoidance resulting from the bill’s passage would be $23.9 billion over the next 20 years.



The DOJ memo calculates projected cost avoidance from each of the three components of the SSA, in addition to the cost of prison construction and increased staffing if the prison population continues to grow at its current rate.

  • Reduction of Mandatory Minimums: The USSC data identified 7,100 offenders in 2012 subject to the 5 year mandatory minimum and 8,368 offenders subject to the 10-year mandatory minimum. If mandatory minimums are reduced per the guidelines in the SSA, the annual inmate costs go from $1,163,409,072 per year to $865,813,736 per year. Through 2023 this would represent a total cost avoidance of $2,938,719,619.
  • FSA Retroactivity: If the crack cocaine sentencing disparity reforms passed in 2010 were made retroactive to those sentenced before 2010, the DOJ estimates that 3,250 offenders would be released in the first year, earlier than projected, having served 131 months or more. By the year 2020 that figure would reduce to 674 and thereafter 0. The projected total cost avoidance would be $382,392,353.
  • Safety Valve: The DOJ does not provide a breakdown of figures used to calculate projected Safety Valve cost avoidance. On the summary sheet, however, they indicate that they estimate total cost avoidance through 2023 would be $246,985,740.
  • Prison Construction: In 2013, federal prisons had the capacity to hold 132,221 people, but were 36% over that capacity, with a population of 176,484 prisoners. The DOJ estimates that the federal prison population will continue to grow at a rate of 1,600 per year (although the prison population has actually decreased slightly from the memo’s original projections, from 176,484 to 173,227). Without mandatory minimum changes, it would require 16 more prisons at a cost of $5.6 billion to accommodate the increased prison population through 2023 at a rate of 36% crowding.
  • Staff: The baseline inmate to staff ratio assumed in the memo is 4.72 staff to 1 inmate. If mandatory minimums are not changed, the DOJ estimates that in order to maintain that ratio the additional staff costs through 2023 would be $7.1 billion dollars.

The DOJ memo projects cost avoidance due to the passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act to be $1,410,453,592 over 5 years, $7,390,909,543 over 10 years and $23,985,610,553 over 20 years.

For more information on the Justice Department memo see the article on FDL News.