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Justice budget includes 10% hike for prisons, including detainee site

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
  • The Justice Department is seeking a 2% budget increase, for $28.2 billion
  • Part of that money would go to renovate a prison that could house detainees
  • But lawmakers have blocked bringing Guantanamo prisoners to U.S. soil
  • An increased portion of the annual budget would also pay for a growing prison population

Washington (CNN) -- The Justice Department Monday issued a 2012 budget requesting funds to "renovate and activate" a prison at Thompson, Illinois, which the administration has identified as the facility that would hold prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, if future transfers to U.S. territory are allowed.

At a news briefing on the administration's proposed $28.2 billion Justice Department budget, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told reporters administration officials are still "analyzing" if and when they may be able to transfer the Guantanamo detainees to Thompson. Republican lawmakers joined by several key Democrats have blocked any Guantanamo transfers to U.S. soil for trials.

While not officially giving up on Guantanamo transfers, Cole and Assistant Attorney General Lee Lofthus acknowledged the 2012 budget had dropped a request made a year ago for the federal government to acquire the property from the state of Illinois.

Lofthus indicated the Justice Department will push for nearly $67 million to renovate and open Thompson as a federal facility, whether "Gitmo" detainees are brought there. The funds would also cover opening two new prison facilities in Berlin, New Hampshire, and Aliceville, Alabama.

Although the total Justice Department budget reflects a proposed increase of only 2%, the portion of the budget directed to prisons and detention represents by far the largest increase -- a 10% boost to $8.3 billion dollars. Officials attribute the increase to a growing workload resulting from a larger prison population. There are currently 211,000 inmates in federal prisons. An expected increase next year will require spending millions on 7,200 additional beds.

Officials said that of approximately 2,000 new employee positions throughout the entire Justice Department and its agencies, nearly 1,800 would be for the Bureau of Prisons.

The counterterrorism programs remain the highest priority for the Justice Department and FBI, and receive the most public attention. But the number of proposed hires for the FBI next year is fewer than 700. Increases in the coming fiscal year are projected at $128 million for national security and $461 for prisons and detention.

The national security hike includes the proposed funding of a new Electronic Surveillance Center. Budget officials said the center was needed to study and understand rapidly changing technical capabilities being used by criminals, terrorists, and spies-- and to ensure federal agents are able to stay ahead of their adversaries.

The Justice Department is recommending cuts of about 16% in aid to state, local and tribal governments. But much of the remaining $3 billion budget request is likely to face intense Republican opposition. The $600 million allotted to the COPS program to help police departments hire new officers is a program Republicans have been eager to end.

Another area slated for 16% cuts is in administrative and management services. Officials said the cuts will include such things as decreased travel expenses and streamlining use of space in federal buildings.

A Justice Department hiring-freeze currently in place is expected to remain until budget agreements are worked out on Capitol Hill. Cole says he hopes the freeze can be lifted so the proposed hiring for 2012 can take place.