I consider myself a passionate prison reformer from outside the beltway. I’m not an academic or lawyer; just someone who worked for decades in the trenches of the Federal prison system. I feel I have a pulse on the agency with insights regarding prison policy, nuances and organizational culture. My bottom line is there can be many proactive prison reforms accomplished under existing BOP policy through leadership.
My experiences in participating in the national reform dialogue often gives me pause for reflection on the state of prison reform. Despite the NGO complex, right/left coalitions and tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars pouring into reform; very little Federal progress has been made in the past several decades.
In steps Donald Trump! Is the sky falling?
During the past few days, the reform world has been upside down because their strategy and agenda was contingent on a Clinton victory. The numerous articles I read have been skeptical of a Trump administration. What they tend to forget is the Clinton Administration was responsible for the Prison Litigation Reform Act, references to “super-predators” as well as the inertia of recent reform efforts. I have a different take on the potential for meaningful prison reform which just might be able to be accomplished outside the beltway’s special interest mentality.
First, unlike the right/left coalition, President elect Trump is not in bed with the special interests. Though GEO allegedly contributed to the campaign, it doesn’t rise to the degree of the control special interests have on the beltway by the likes of Soros, the Koch brothers and organizations like ALEC. Let’s hope President elect Trump can put his money where his mouth is and step outside the box in the reform venue.
Though it is unlikely he will bring a “soft on crime” approach to the table, his skill set and inner circle could potentially identify practical prison reforms with a greater focus on evidenced based treatment, population reduction and the potential for public/private collaboration. There are many win/win scenarios which can be accomplished to enhance public safety and reduce recidivism without appearing soft on crime. True reform can best accomplished through strong leadership and executive pressure on the BOP rather than raising money for NGO’s, Blue Ribbon commissions, endless meetings, luncheons and panels were justice involved individuals are used as props for fund raising.
Below are three areas which I believe can be implemented rather quickly through leadership and an outside the box mentality.
1) Agency Culture: There is a profound need to appoint a BOP director who is from outside the agency culture. This person would require the skill to identify and correct the issues of non- transparency, agency responsiveness to the public, hiring/promotion practices and the way employees are trained. There is not enough emphasis on evidenced based treatment programs, the utilization of community resources in private/public partnerships or agency accountability. New and fresh leadership can almost immediately impact these deficiencies.
2) Bureaucracy: The BOP’s population is only slightly larger than the correctional population of Texas yet operates 6 Regional Offices and 10 Divisions in DC. There are literally several thousand administrative positions who do work directly with inmates. This bureaucracy of high paid government workers can be better served by reallocating positions to the institutions working directly with incarcerated people (yes people). What you have now are 6 bureaucracies within one organization headed by 6 directors and their executive staff. This is simply an issue of a business analysis and re-allocation of staff resources. There are nearly 40, 000 BOP related positions!
3) Pilot: The development of an Urban, Comprehensive Treatment Center by a private/public partnership which includes diversionary drug, mental health and veterans courts, day reporting for educational/vocational treatment, and residential and re-entry (halfway in/out) units is needed. The government incarcerates individuals far from the family, community resources (NGO’s & faith based) and Universities which inhibit effective treatment to combat recidivism and include many “hidden costs” of incarceration. Once implemented, this facility concept can be a model for the country.
What better person could run with this concept than Mr. Trump? Let me be clear that I am NOT a fan of privatization but believe there can be a productive synergy in delivering private services with adequate governmental involvement and oversight. This is an expansion of the “Comprehensive Sanction Center” which is currently in BOP policy and studied by the organization in the 1990’s.
Let’s start seeing the glass as half full and realize the potential that President elect Trump can have for a positive impact on prison reform.
For a more comprehensive look at additional practical reforms, please refer to one of my earlier blogs which includes the testimony I provided to the Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections.