jail guard walking in front of prison cells

U.S. Prisons Face $3 Billion Maintenance Backlog

Congress appropriated $179.8 million for the system's buildings and facilities - a 38 percent cut from the $290 million the system received in the prior fiscal year   March 27, 2024

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor 

Taxpayers are notoriously stingy with their tax dollars, and tax dollars for building maintenance has long been a low priority. And when it comes to deciding exactly which public buildings — including K-12 schools, universities and office buildings — will receive these elusive dollars, it seems that the nation’s prisons are further down the list than most, despite growing maintenance problems throughout the system. 

Congress has sharply reduced 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 (BOP) told Congress recently that the agency has a maintenance and repair backlog of about $3 billion. 

In the fiscal 2024 package signed by President Joe Biden, Congress appropriated $179.8 million for the system’s buildings and facilities — a 38 percent cut from the $290 million the system received in the prior fiscal year, according to Roll Call

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 is delayed. 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor for the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 


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