At a time of historically low rates of crime, the federal prison system is operating at almost 40 percent over capacity. A recent report by the Congressional Research Service found that the federal prison population has grown by almost 790 percent since 1980.
Congress wants to know why federal prisons are bulging at the seams. They have launched an investigation into the proliferation of federal criminal statutes.
Federal lawmakers have been creating on average 55 new “crimes” per year, bringing the total number of federal crimes on the books to more than 5,000, with as many as 300,000 regulatory crimes. Back in 1790, the first federal criminal law passed by Congress listed fewer than 20 federal crimes.
The problem is known as overcriminalization and it is not just a federal problem. There is no dearth of criminal statutes on the state level. For instance, Texas lawmakers have created over 1,700 criminal offenses.