Agency Spotlight–History of the Bureau of Prisons

Apr 10, 2017


The federal prison system was established in 1891, but the Bureau of Prisons wasn’t established until 1930. They were established under the Department of Justice and charged with the “management and regulation of all federal penal and correctional institutions”. This responsibility covered the administration of the 11 federal prisons in operation at the time.

The BOP’s responsibility grew as the prison population grew. By the end of 1930, the agency operated 14 facilities for just over 13,000 inmates. By 1940, the Bureau had grown again to 24 facilities with 24,360 inmates.

The numbers didn’t fluctuate much between 1940-1980 when the population was 24,252. However, the number of BOP facilities went from 24 to 44 as they gradually moved from operating large facilities confining inmates of many security levels to operating smaller facilities that confined inmates with similar security needs.

The 1980’s brought federal law enforcement efforts and new legislation that changed sentencing in the justice system. Consequently, this brought in more 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 1980-1989, the inmate population more than doubled from just over 24,000 to 58,000. During the 1990’s, the population more than doubled again and rose to 136,000 by the end of 1999, due to the efforts to combat illegal drugs and immigration. From 2000-present, the population has continued to grow and currently stands at 188,950.

Harris Federal Law Firm serves to educate federal employees on their benefits and resources. If you are a federal employee who is struggling with a disability that is preventing you from fully performing your job, you may qualify for Federal Disability Retirement. Contact our firm today to learn more.

Message us & find out if you qualify today!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Recent Articles

Federal Disability Retirement vs Social Security Disability Insurance

We understand that the thought of being unable to work due to injury or illness is something no one wants to face. While we hope this remains a hypothetical scenario for you, it is crucial to stay informed about the eligibility criteria for Social Security Disability...

Federal Employee Resources

Our ever growing library of federal employee resources give you the knowledge you need to make smart choices about your future.


Frequently Asked Questions

Get the answers you need on-demand, from a team of federal employee benefits professionals.

View FAQ

Federal Benefit Webinars

Twice per month we host webinars to help federal employees better understand their benefits and answer their questions LIVE.

See Webinar Schedule

Benefit Guides

From guides to detailed charts, these educational resources will help clarify confusing federal employee benefits topics.

See our resources