What have we become?

The gloves slightly come off 😉

It’s been too long since I wrote a blog so I’ll get busy with a topic advocates and politicians continue to dance on the tables over. I never even got on the table after the First Step Act was signed into law because it is ill conceived, poorly written, convoluted, underfunded and infiltrated with white collar & private prison interests.

Maybe I’m just upset because I am close to being considered “Elderly” under the law based on the changes in the Elderly Offender pilot program criteria of the Second Chance Act reauthorization.  You would think in a society where people are living longer, the authors of the bill would have at least thought about changing elderly to “older” when it comes to age 60! But why should I be surprised when there is no attention to detail anywhere in this legislation?   

While I’m optimistic in life, my pessimism of the federal advocacy world isn’t much different than the pessimism I have of the beltway at large which is comprised of opportunists, academics and lawyers stroking their egos while  complimenting each other at elaborate fund raisers and awards ceremonies. The other day, I heard a fellow advocate coin the term “littlerichkids.org”. Priceless!  Later, I visited the web page of an organization referenced in a recent DOJ press release about the FSA and it was littered with dozens of pictures reflective of the aforementioned descriptive.     

My consternation is that beltway justice reform is big business, controlled by lobbies and philanthropists with self-interests who accomplish very little reform given enormous financial expenditures. I keep a file marked “NGO Mafia” which contains hundreds of organizations which I view no different than the prison industrial complex profiteers aside from them flying under the radar of scrutiny. I’ve devoted a chapter of a book to these organizations and someday hope to sift through the raw data and arrive at some hard figures for the money spent in the name of reform on studies, blue ribbon commissions, consultants, think tanks and organizational expenses. Every time a new crime bill is entered, there’s an economic and social media feeding frenzy during the process and more so after it is signed into law. ALEC is usually proud.   

Prison reform issues have been studied to death and the answer is not another new study, new program, threat assessment tool or algorithm. For the most part, the answer is to treat people with dignity and put correctional treatment, education and training on an equal footing with incapacitation. This can only be accomplished by reducing the administrative bureaucracy costs and reallocating them to increase the number of people directly working with the incarcerated in the trenches of our prisons. Hiring and promotion practices and basic training philosophy must move away from the concept that prisoners are the enemy.

The 6 regional BOP offices need to be closed and prison industries (aka: UNICOR) needs to be re-created from scratch with stronger public/private partnerships.  A viable Tier 2 volunteer program needs to cultivated as well, including other partnerships with carefully chosen NGO’s , faith based organizations and universities.     This can all be done under the existing policy and statutory framework but only with a commitment to transparency, accountability and leadership the agency has been lacking in for many years. The BOP is a quasi-militaristic organization and the DOJ-Deputy AG must take a more active role in accountability.  In addition, the BOP Ombudsman office should be expanded and developed to be an independent conduit to assist the DOJ to this end.  It can be done rather easily and is cost effective.        

As I am typing this, I received an email which contained a letter dated April 8, from Congressman Jerry Nadler to the BOP and NIJ on the implementation of the First Step Act. I hang my head in shame as many of the things they asked for in the letter are right on the BOP website including the Compassionate Release policy which was updated in accordance with the FSA almost 3 months ago. What have we become?