The Federal Prison System existed for more than 30 years before the establishment of the Bureau of Prisons. Although its wardens functioned almost autonomously, the Superintendent of Prisons, a Department of Justice official in Washington, was nominally in charge of Federal prisons, starting with the passage of the Three Prisons Act in 1891, which authorized the Federal Government's first three penitentiaries.
Until 1907, prison matters were handled by the Justice Department's General Agent. The General Agent was responsible for Justice Department accounts, oversight of internal operations, and certain criminal investigations, as well as prison operations. In 1907, the General Agent's office was abolished, and its functions were distributed among three new offices: the Division of Accounts (which evolved into ...view middle of the document...
" This responsibility covered the administration of the 11 Federal prisons in operation at the time. While time have passed and laws have changed, the Bureau's responsibilities have grown, as has the prison population. At the end of 1930, the agency operated 14 facilities for just over 13,000 inmates. By 1940, the Bureau had grown to 24 facilities with 24,360 inmates. Except for a few fluctuations, the number of inmates did not change significantly between 1940 and 1980, when the population was 24,252. However, the number of facilities almost doubled (from 24 to 44) as the Bureau gradually moved from operating large facilities confining inmates of many security levels to operating smaller facilities that each confined inmates with similar security needs.
As a result of Federal law enforcement efforts and new legislation that dramatically altered sentencing in the Federal criminal justice system, the 1980s brought a significant increase in the number of Federal inmates. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 established determinate sentencing, abolished parole, and reduced good time; additionally, several mandatory minimum sentencing provisions were enacted in 1986, 1988, and 1990. From 1980 to 1989, the inmate population more than doubled, from just over 24,000 to almost 58,000. During the 1990s, the population more than doubled again, reaching approximately 136,000 at the end of 1999 as efforts to combat illegal drugs and illegal immigration contributed to significantly increased conviction rates.
Staffing levels also have risen dramatically in recent years. In 1980, the Bureau had approximately 10,000 employees. That number almost doubled in 10 years to just over 19,000 in 1990. As of June 2003, there were about 34,000 employees in the Bureau.