Chief Justice Warren E. Burger says the nation's overcrowded prisons face violent inmate "explosions" if federal, state and local authorities do not work to defuse them.
In his annual year-end report on the U.S. legal system, Burger called for "a national correctional policy."
"Correctional policy, particularly during times of rapidly increasing prisoner populations and prison overcrowding, can no longer remain confined to one level of government or one segment of society," he said.
"State, local and federal authorities must focus on these problems in concert and develop a national correctional policy to deal with them," he said.
Burger said he plans to ask Congress soon to create what he called a National Commission on Corrections Practices "to review these matters and propose remedial programs."
He also assailed proposals before Congress to create more than 200 new federal bankruptcy judgeships, saying the move would create a costly "management monster."
The federal bankruptcy system was thrown into confusion last June when the high court struck down Congress' 1978 revision of the system.
"Casually resorting to the creation of specialized courts," such as bankruptcy courts, "is a remedy worse than the disease," he said.
On inmate crowding, Burger noted that last year's prison population was about 400,000, double the total in 1972. "Mandatory sentencing bills adopted by 37 states and 123 new anti-crime bills may well enlarge the prisoner population and lead to more prison explosions," he said.
As ways to cope with the large prison population, Burger cited enlarging existing prisons and building new ones, making prison confinement "more humane and effective by enhancing the caliber and training of prison officials" and expanding programs providing inmates with education and opportunities for work experience.
Burger's report also touched on themes he has often sounded: the need for continuing education for lawyers, the merit of programs designed to resolve certain legal disputes out of court and the need to curtail federal court caseloads.