The Lone Wolf speaks

I recently testified in a sentencing and the prosecutor asked me if I was a “Lone Wolf”? Apparently he read one of my blogs looking for dirt and that’s about all he could come up with.  I answered, “absolutely” when it comes to Criminal Justice form.

I perpetually hang my head in shame when I view the commentary, op eds and press releases on justice reform issues when it comes to the prison aspects! Enter: The First Step Act.   It was comical watching an ex-police commissioner on TV the other night who is now a federal prion expert for doing a minute in a camp!  When asked about the bill, the best thing he had is how it would reunite families!  Are you kidding me?  The bill does not accomplish this nor does it accomplish a majority of the “prison reforms” it claims to but I guess it makes people in the administration feel good!

Rather than writing a blog about the numerous shortcomings of the legislation, I’m just going to cut and past what I sent to hundreds of our incarcerated by way of Corrlinks and a newsletter shortly after I read the draft: (Note: I feel it’s a public service to keep the population informed because this hype usually has families and the incarcerated thinking release is imminent)

Hi all:

“ I had a chance to quickly go through the First Step Act draft that hit the net today. It’s the same old, disingenuous garbage as previous bill versions when it comes to the BOP sections/issues. The front end sentencing reforms are good and the same ones referred to in my last blog and/or email. ( 924 Stacking issue, broadening the safety valve, Fair Sentencing Act retro-activity, etc.) However;


First, anyone releasing in the next two years won’t be impacted if it was passed yesterday, when it comes to the BOP time credits provisions. Page 35 of the draft gives the BOP two years to determine the risk level of everyone incarcerated. (min/low/med high) They are needlessly re-inventing the wheel.

As far as the prison related issues:

BOP/AG has 180 days to come up with the new risk tool & evidenced based programs, and 180 more to implement, so one year is burned right out of the gate. Then the BOP has to assign a risk to everyone and as I said above, they have 2 years !

Anyone who completed programs prior to passage are NOT credited for the new good time credits. So after a year, when they identify risk and programs, people start earning the credits after each month they are in a “recidivism reduction program”. (10 days extra a month & 5 more for min/low risk)

The problem is all that does is get you an earlier RRC – provided there are beds! A joke. There are no beds. It also talks about direct Home Confinement which can be done since the 90’s. I guess the 75 million a year approved could go towards more beds but the contracting process takes a few years in itself. (enter- The Private Prison Lobby)- Don’t forget GEO have been entering this space which has literally no oversite and huge profit margins.

Not to mention, the time and satisfactory progress is awarded at the BOP’s discretion. Then there’s a laundry list of cases who can’t even earn the extra time, including non-citizens. I don’t even think this bill is constitutional and will negatively impact people of color disproportionately. It’s similar to the Chaffetz Bill way back which drew a lot of opposition by the Federal and Community Defenders organization.

Then there’s the language about transferring closer to home provided there are beds! Another joke- No infrastructure to accomplish this. 

Then there’s the extra visiting at the warden’s discretion!

Of course there is an incentive to spend more money as they gouge you in the commissary!  

Phone minutes go to 510 from 360 ! Big deal, I think not……..

A real funny issue is unlimited email! There is already unlimited email!


They also change the way the Good Conduct Time is calculated to 54 days for each year sentenced (vs served)but no mention to retro-activity? I have spoken to legal experts who say say this will be retroactive. (47 to 54 for each year of the sentence). A long overdue change!

They did change some compassionate release language and terminology and looks like they extended the SCA of 2007- Elderly Offender (pilot) time frame to 66 % and lowered the age 60. If I am reading it correctly, they may have removed the minimum 10 years to serve as well. These people don’t even understand the bop already incorporated some of the Elderly Offender provisions in the CR policy a few years back so now we have redundancy and some confusion because of the similarities. Who ever wrote this has a very limited understanding of BOP policy, process  and culture  

They also appear to have re-defined “Community Confinement” in a broader way to include rehabs, and other facilities. That’s good on the mitigation side if I’m reading that right.

I need to research a few other issues that references federal law but I doubt its anything significant.

Bottom Line: They could have accomplished much more, in much less time at less costs but private interests, politicians and lobbies don’t benefit from that! They do not deal with the fundamental core reform issues like accountability, transparency and leadership but that’s just inherent in the swamp I guess.

I’ll keep you posted…………”  End of quote,  End of email…………..




Déjà vu all over again?

I have tracked the various criminal justice reform bills for decades from a unique perspective inside the federal prison system. Each time, it’s the same old song and dance. First come the press releases; then rumors run rampant with the prison population while NGOs and politicians raise money for all the “wonderful work” they are doing regarding reform.  Families then celebrate and people within the system line up at the door for release. The last phase of the process is disappointment when nothing comes to fruition as everyone waits to repeat the vicious cycle. Is this time different?

We have been at this juncture many times before with high expectations. It is easy to get caught up in the hype given social media and especially after the barrage of stories and press releases last night followed by the statements made by President Trump. While I usually cry foul at this time, I’m willing to finally say there is a small chance something will get passed in the lame duck session but that’s about as far as I am willing to go.

I am writing this article to briefly clarify where we are at in the process to combat rumors within the prison population and provide a sense of reality to the false expectations I am already hearing.  My Corrlinks is lighting up as we wait for the final compromise draft so I’m basing this article on the First Step Act as passed in the House and the statements released by the various politicians and advocacy groups in tune with the process.

The First Step Act (FSA) as passed in the House was dead on arrival in the Senate because it lacked the front end reforms (referenced below) in the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRACA) sponsored by Senator Grassley. This caused a rift in the advocacy world between the front end and back end reformers. At this point, the breakthrough agreement is a compromise solution to combine the bills to include both front end (sentencing related) and back end (prison related) measures.

As a BOP insider, I (nor the BOP) are fans of the way the back end measures are written from a practical policy perspective. The same word continues to come up when speaking with the BOP and the word is “convoluted”. While it’s premature to get into the weeds of each prison issue; they generally revolve around incentives for new, evidenced based educational and vocational programing, a new risk assessment tool, extended RRC (aka: halfway house) placement for earned good time credits and the correction to the way the BOP calculates good conduct time to every year sentenced vs served (54 from 47 ). Aside from the potential for retroactivity to this recalculation, the remainder of the back end measures will take years to implement.

The BOP must first “develop” a new risk assessment tool and has one year to develop it after the bill is passed. In addition, the programs already completed prior to the passage of the bill are not credited for the additional good time credits. Overall, the BOP is given far too much discretion on who receives the credit and/or incentives.  Those of you who remember “The Jason Chaffetz bill” might remember how it came under attack by the Federal Public and Community Defenders for being discriminatory. People should not be punished and awarded more good time based on their crime. The sentence is the punishment and it is the unequal treatment of people in the system that might serve a political sound bite but its the same flawed “tough on crime” logic that got us this Jim Crow incarceration nation to begin with!

What most politicians fail to realize is that the BOP does not have the bed space capacity for longer RRC placements to begin with, which is one of the major incentives regarding the extra good time credits. The current infrastructure has not even be able to Honor the intent of the Second Chance Act of 2007, plus the contracting process for additional beds is a complicated and a multi-year process. While all these measures sound practical to politicians, they are not.

The much needed front end measures as reported include:

Eliminate the “924 stacking” regulation making it a federal crime to commit a federal crime while you have a gun

Eliminate “three strikes” and you’re out mandating that three-time offenders receive a life sentence. Expand “the drug safety valve” to allow judges to make an exception for nonviolent drug offenders when it comes to mandatory minimum sentences.

Make the “Fair Sentencing Act” of 2010, which reduced the sentencing disparity between offenses for crack and power cocaine, so that pre-2010 offenders have the right to retroactively seek a reduction in sentencing.

Let’s hope the front end measures referenced above remain intact while someone brings some sanity to the BOP related measures which is unlikely. Senator Mitch McConnell has already made some cautionary statements regarding the ability to get the legislation through this session given other priorities while some democrats feel they may be able to get a broader bill when they take control of Congress.  That may be the best curse of action so stay tuned……

Dear Mr. Kushner

It appears the recent rumblings within the political landscape of justice reform have led to a potential compromise bill in the Senate looming for September. I’ve watched various reform bills since the 1980’s and can honestly say this is the first bill even remotely close to passage. I’d like to thank you for your efforts in keeping reform in the sights of the administration but also challenge you to think outside the box of the “Right/Left Coalition”, academics and advocates inside the beltway.

From a practical perspective, a Senate compromise bill must have meaningful reforms like the expansion of the safety valve provisions, making the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) retroactive and reducing some of the more draconian mandatory minimums, especially clarifying the “stacking” in reference to 924(c). These “front end” components included in the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S.1917) were omitted in the First Step Act (H.R.5682) which has caused consternation among many in the advocacy world.

Now that the FSA has been passed in the House, the Senate has the choice to put lipstick on a pig or seize the momentum and be known as the Congress that facilitated a turning point in our nation’s history by replacing the incarceration nation with a more effective and equitable justice system and correctional treatment model. This balancing of sentencing reform and practical prison reform measures can lead to safer prisons and communities by providing the training, education and treatment our marginalized populations deserve in the broader spirit of reformative justice.

I have attended many of the Senate Judiciary meetings on reform over the years and have been a strong opponent to the BOP-prison related reforms as written; mainly the time credit provisions. My criticism stems from my direct experience of over 3 decades working in the trenches of the system with the incarcerated. While Senator Grassley should be commended for being steadfast by insisting on front end reform measures, deeper thought is needed on the prison related aspects of reform legislation.

I beg for circumspection of the current bills which are inadequately written, discriminatory and will take years to fully implement. The prison related measures are not only cumbersome from an administration stand point, they create more bureaucracy and give the Federal Bureau of Prison’s far too much discretion in accomplishing the intended goal of recidivism reduction. I speak on this issue with authority going back to the “Old Law” where people were eligible for release on parole at 33% of their sentence. Below I will frame a simple, practical and cost effective legislative measure that could literally be implemented over night and hope you or someone in the administration has the vision and courage to consider it as a viable alternative to what is currently proposed.

Something that has flow under the radar from July was House Resolution 933 which acknowledged the “War on Drugs has been a failed policy in achieving the goal of reducing drug use, and for the House of Representatives to apologize to the individuals and communities that were victimized by this policy.” While I don’t believe apologies are necessary, this concept helps me better explain the needed good time fix and correctional treatment emphasis in context for reformers, academics and politicians who are not directly involved with prison administration. I commend the people with the administration’s ear like CUT#50, professional athletes, entertainers, and academics but I also believe they are missing practical feedback from a policy and implementation perspective when it comes to both the good time solution and evidenced based correctional treatment programs.

I think most reasonable people will admit the war on drugs and more importantly, “Truth in Sentencing Laws” have been an overall failure especially in regards to our inner city populations. If someone committed a federal crime on October 31, 1987, most sentences had parole eligibility at 33 % of the term and even Life sentences had parole eligibility in 10 years with a 30 year mandatory release date. If that same person committed a crime the day later, on November 1, 1987, they would be required to serve over 85 % of the sentence while the Lifers all will die in jail because there is no longer good time for Life sentences; even for the non-violent drug offenders.

Truth In Sentencing Laws have not only failed our communities but they have created more dangerous institutional environments for staff and the incarcerated because they removed the previous incentives for people to maintain clear conduct and participate in correctional treatment programs. What’s equally troubling is that many of the Lifers who are now elderly are no longer a risk to the community and incur enormous financial costs to tax payers as they age. The overall net gains of truth in sentencing laws were a windfall for, and expansion of, the prison industrial complex, less safer communities, the deterioration of the family unit and for creating the world’s leader in incarceration per capita.

What is needed is simply the return to the normalcy of the “Old Law” (pre 11/1987) good time system which is fair for all sentenced people, allows for safer institutional environments and has incentives for correctional treatment programming and good behavior. The older justice professionals reading this might recall a time in the 1980’s when the federal prison system was a progressive and often emulated penal model. When people participated in programs and earned the maximum amount of what was referred to as “extra” and “statutory” good time, they released to community supervision at approximately 66% of the sentence imposed, provided they maintained clear conduct.

Let me be clear that I am NOT advocating for returning to a parole system (33 %) or an increase in the US Parole Commission bureaucracy! I am only suggesting a return to the middle ground solution and historical normalcy of the good time procedures (66 %) prior to the failed war on drugs (85%).

There are still “old law” people incarcerated in the federal system so the policy, training and overall infrastructure is present for immediate implementation. There is even an assessment tool with static and dynamic factors which can be quickly modified vs the proposed years it will take to study and “develop” a new risk assessment tool. The current proposed time credits under the various crime bills circulating in Congress attempts to re-create the wheel in a convoluted way, giving the BOP far too much discretion on implementation; but more importantly, it discriminates against people of color. In addition, the bills place too much emphasis on single, magical recidivism reduction programs over the individual’s correctional treatment plan and their criminogenic factors.
People are sentenced to prison for the severity of their crime and should not be further punished with the unequal awarding of good time credits simply because it fulfills a political “tough on crime” soundbite as the “war on drugs” did! We need to return to a fairer system with a better balance of treatment vs punishment and that starts with a restoration of sanity to the previous good time system, staffing our prisons appropriately at the treatment level along with more accountability, transparency and responsiveness by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Many other progressive federal prison reforms can also be accomplished by broadening the existing statutory and policy framework.

While a risk assessment tool and evidenced based programs referenced in the SRACA and FSA are needed; academics and politicians must be aware that incentivized individual programs create waiting lists, manipulation and frustration while academic tools are far less effective than meaningful interaction with correctional treatment professionals once the agency is appropriately staffed to accomplish the mission of unit management as intended and defined in national policy.

I would be happy to come by your office and meet with you or your staff at your convenience to explain these concepts in greater detail.

Sincerely: Jack T. Donson, A Passionate Prison Reformer

Time to rant (Only for serious reformers)

I  always wonder who writes these crime bills and the First Step Act (FSA) is no different.  After reading the flavor of the week, I just need to remind myself there is no reason to get upset because it’s just more beltway dysfunction. While the FSA is actually worse than most of the recent legislation, it has managed to get passed in the House. My DC union connections have assured me it is DOA in the Senate which provides some comfort.

Let’s hope the FSA is just one of the many other head fakes we have experienced in the past few Congresses. I’m going to do something different in this blog by providing some technical information about the bill’s deficits which I recently sent to the BOP. It’s a longer, technical read  and will debate and/or explain the merits of the content with anyone, anytime, anywhere!

The FSA makes me reflect back on the Inmate Skills Development System (ISDS) which was recently discontinued because of its ineffectiveness after many years of implementation and costs. This bill is going down the same road with the new “risk assessment tool”.  It’s also discriminatory, underfunded and gives the agency far too much discretion.

It is obvious the authors never worked in or served time in a federal prison classification or treatment setting or have even a basic understanding of agency policy. My disconnect with this legislation is most of the intended goals can be better accomplished at far less cost with a much quicker implementation under the existing statutory framework aside from the good time fix.

Risk Assessment Tool: (Here’s where it get’s technical)

Rather than developing an entirely new risk assessment tool; the current BOP risk assessment tool in the computer system known as “SENTRY” can be modified. The tool known as the “custody classification form” (aka: BP-338) already includes dynamic factors which are referred to in this bill. This tool can be modified to obtain the objective rather than putting the time and resources into the development of a totally new tool which would be unfamiliar to the agency.

When I speak to advocates inside the beltway regarding this tool, they are either unaware it exists or are under the impression that it only includes static factors. That is evident in The Leadership Counsel letter because they are concerned about using the BOP tool. They are simply incorrect because the BP-338, Custody Classification transaction is predominately dynamic factors. They must be confusing it with the BP-337 which is static. Although the initial security designation tool (aka: BP-337) includes static factors, the yearly classification review process (BP-338) includes mostly dynamic factors which are used in other tools nationwide. These dynamic factors determine a recommendation regarding “custody” with the treatment staff having the final determination on the outcome.

Without getting too much into the “weeds” of custody classification; think of custody as an equivalent to the reduction in recidivism (ie: risk) that is totally separate than the assigned security level (Min/Low/Med/High). The graduated, 4 level, custody classification system of Maximum, In, Out and Community is what determines the individual’s responsibility and what correctional environment they can be managed in. The current methodology is something the BOP can easily understand and implement with only minor modifications to the existing SENTRY program. This bill assess risk as minimum, low medium and high which will totally confuse the agency because of the 4 level security level system.

To better understand this concept, one must understand the historical perspective. In the 1980’s, before the wide adoption of satellite camps, inmates who were classified as medium and high security could be assigned “OUT” custody so they could be assigned gate passes to work outside the institution perimeter. At that time, it was a 6-level custody system (1 through 6), with custody levels 5 and 6 being the equivalent to today’s high security.
Even inmates with custody level 4’s and 5’s were able to obtain gate passes because their risk level was considered low.

Analogy 1: A medium security person who was reduced to “Out” custody was determined to be a minimal/low risk of recidivism because we felt he had the responsibility to go outside the fence and work on the reservation with two hr. intermittent supervision. The current BP-338 “tool” recommended a reduction and it was approved by the unit team.

Analogy 2: When the same person progressed and was under 2 years from release, we had the ability to approve “community” custody to participate in community programs because we felt he had minimal risk (or the lowest risk) of recidivism. In fact, this methodology actually exists today; “John Smith” who is a “High” security level in a United States Penitentiary (“USP”) departs for the Residential Re-entry Center (“RRC”). Mr. Smith goes from “IN” custody to “COMMUNITY” custody immediately to participate in community programs at the RRC.

Custody is discretionary depending on the risk factors entered into the computer program, and the unit team or the warden in certain cases has the authority to increase or decrease custody level at any time during the sentence regardless of the security level. Therefore, the lowest risk for recidivism would be “community” and the highest risk would be “Maximum”.

Real Case: For instance, I can recall an Aryan Brotherhood member who actually killed someone but was eventually assigned a gate pass (ie: low risk) because of the time that had elapsed since the instant offense, his programming, behavior and ensuing release date. The 338 custody classification system recommended the reduction, the unit team supported it and the warden approved it because of the “low risk”. That situation explains the general concept how almost anyone can be considered and approved for a minimum or low risk so it is already within the agency framework for implementation. From my recollection that person became a mentor after release and was involved with “Kairos” prison ministry.

It’s important to remember when the data is keyed on the BP-338 (PPG7), the computer always makes a recommendation regarding the new custody (increase, decrease, same). It’s the unit team’s final decision to approve the recommendation because there is a tendency in the program to recommend a decrease when it may not be warrant when all factors are assessed.

Ineligible Prisoners:

Similar to Sec.407- of HR 3356, there is section on page 12, par. 13 (D) which contains a list of crimes which are excludable. This is extremely confusing because the BOP has a policy entitled “Categorization of Offenses”, PS # 5162.5, which is the policy to determine who is excluded from receiving program benefits based on the nature of their crime as a “Crime of Violence” or as a “Director’s Discretion” case. Why would we have an entire, meticulous policy on this subject but create another arbitrary list of exclusionary crimes referenced in this bill?

I am going to assume the authors here were unaware that the aforementioned BOP policy exists and/or they do not realize the BOP has SENTRY “CMA” computer assignments for violent crime classification and the WALSH Act (sex offender cases).

It’s confusing to say the least why we would have a separate list when this is already in the policy and agency practices? Note: in my humble opinion, we should remove ALL the Director’s discretion exclusions because it inhibits people from receiving Drug treatment due to the inability for early release. People are punished for their crimes by the length of the sentence and should not further be further punished when in the system. ALL people should be eligible and be able to earn the benefits regardless of the crime aside from Life sentences. We did not make such distinctions under the old law when it came to extra or statutory good time.

Elderly Offender Pilot changes and extension of the Second Chance Act:

Sec. 403, page 55, par. 8 extends the EOP and changes some criteria. This is confusing because some of the criteria have already been incorporated in the revision to the BOP’s compassionate release policy, some which is actually more liberal than this suggested change.

Compassionate Release, PS # 5050.49: The language in this bill further confuses this specific policy issue with differing criteria.

“b. Elderly Inmates with Medical Conditions. Inmates who fit the following criteria:

■ Age 65 and older. ■ Suffer from chronic or serious medical conditions related to the aging process. ■ Experiencing deteriorating mental or physical health that substantially diminishes their ability to function in a correctional facility. ■ Conventional treatment promises no substantial improvement to their mental or physical condition. ■ Have served at least 50% of their sentence.”

What is more practical here is to attempt to get the BOP to simply comply with the existing policy rather than expanding and reactivating the pilot which never reached its intended goal. To do this, we can:

1) Mandating the agency to refer cases who meet the program criteria to the sentencing court for a final determination unless the agency can demonstrate/document a credible risk to the community (with input from the USPO).

Example: I once referred a person to the original SCA pilot program who was denied for a “risk to the community” by the BOP-OGC yet the person was housed in a camp, worked alone at night snow plowing the grounds and roads up to the community road, and had been on several unescorted furloughs to a community doctor for medical appointments, etc. The original pilot program had a very low approval rate to begin with and making the criteria more liberal will not result in a significant change aside from the removal of the 10 year eligibility mandate which is a much needed change! I strongly support this aspect of the legislation.

2) Crediting the earned and “awarded” good conduct time towards any program eligibility is practical. This is statutorily possible under 18 USC 3621. The BOP “award” 54 days after each year served in the SENTRY data base and a separate transaction can be run to break down each and every award on the anniversary year. If we are “awarding” it, why would it not be credited towards any program which mandates a set term be completed prior to program participation? We use these very same awards to release inmates to the community so it would be a practical use of the agencies discretion to credit them when it comes to program participation.

For instance, a person who has served 8.5 years should be credited for 10 years and that time applied and calculated towards any criteria where a percentage of time is required. (ie: time served, plus good conduct time awarded is added together and credited towards the 2/3 calculation referred to in this legislation)

Recidivism reduction Programs:

With regard to recidivism reduction programs, this bill focuses too much on the programs over the individual’s treatment plan, abilities and criminogenic needs. We all know what happens when the BOP incentivizes a program like RDAP (Residential Drug Treatment). The waiting lists grow, the populations compete for program entrance and even create false stories in the pre-sentence reports to obtain program placement. Aside from the non-existent programs in the first place, the less savvy and marginalized population are denied program placement as they compete for acceptance. The end result is frustration, program manipulation and delays in programming. I’ve actually seen hundreds of people who didn’t need or qualify for RDAP had they not created a fictitious history prior to the PSR interview. It’s a cottage industry today. This actually makes institutions less safe and benefits the white collar types.

There is simply not a program infrastructure or the staffing for the type of recidivism reduction programs discussed in this legislation.

The actual BOP philosophy and policy consists of a comprehensive correctional treatment plan that addresses multiple deficit areas that are vital to rehabilitation and recidivism reduction. What is important to this concept is that as long as the inmate is making satisfactory progress towards the individualized, comprehensive correctional treatment plan, they should receive program benefits despite if the “program” itself is classified/determined as one that reduces recidivism. This takes the focus off of program itself and the inmates “shopping’ for the magic program where the incentive is more important than the program benefit. While it is practical to have evidenced based, recidivism reducing programs; someone of border line intelligence should earn the good time regardless of what program they complete regardless of the program classification.

It’s not a one size fits all situation. One person with cognitive deficiencies and poor impulse control can be awarded for simply participating in the GED and staying out of trouble vs a person of higher intelligence and no behavior issues would need to address their deficits by different programs fit for their own criminogenic factors.

In addition, comprehensive correctional treatment plans also address multiple deficit areas like education, behavior control, vocational training and substance abuse. Evidenced based programs “proven to reduce recidivism” must be utilized but only as part of the total comprehensive correctional treatment plan.

None of the above can be accomplished unless the BOP follows their own policy on a meaningful program review process rather than a hurried, sign the paper and get out philosophy. BOP administrators need to understand it the fundamental breakdown of the team process due to staffing jeopardizes public safety just as much as an escape, if not more. The sad part of this is that there needs to be a re-examination of the unit management concept and either scrap it or staff it as historically intended. The agency’s art of pretending they practice unit management principles can be easily debunked by a review of nation-wide practices. The most profound non legislative recommendation to reducing recidivism is to return to manageable case-loads of 100 people per case manager and counselor and conduct classification meetings like it was intended with a multi-disciplinary team which also includes the personal attendance of the psychology services and the education representative. This relationship development fosters safer institutional environments and protects the public.

The BOP policy regarding this process is governed by Program Statement 5322.13, Inmate Classification and Program Review (Program Statement 5322.13) which utilizes a comprehensive correctional treatment plan concept, instead of singling out a “Program” for an incentive approach.

When an inmate arrives at a federal prison facility, he/she receives an Initial Classification meeting within four (4) weeks of arrival (referred to as “Team”). At that time, feedback is solicited from the Psychology Services representative and Education Advisor, and a comprehensive correctional treatment plan is established with short-term and long-term goals for the inmate.

For example, a comprehensive correctional treatment plan for an inmate may specify the following: attend General Education Development (“GED”) courses for twenty (20) hours a week, with the long-term goal of GED completion in one year; complete the basic drug education program within 6 months with the long-term goal of transferring to a Residential Drug Abuse Program (“RDAP”); pay the assessment of $100 by paying down $25.00 monthly which satisfies the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (“IFRP”). Further, the RDAP, the most desired single program, exemplifies the need for a comprehensive correctional treatment plan. This incentive-based program is not offered everywhere and the maximum program benefits are sometimes missed given to late enrollment dates due to waiting lists at many institutions. In addition, there are literally cottage industry type businesses creating drug abuse histories prior to the pre-sentence interview in order to qualify to attend the program. These offenders are occupying needed beds better utilized for inmates with actual abuse histories. Therefore, program shopping and manipulation may be curtailed with an individualized, comprehensive correctional treatment program.

Good time credit:

The most profound recommendation related to legislative proposals is the discriminatory awarding of good time. Historically & going back to the “old law” pre-1987; the BOP did not factor in the awarding of statutory or extra good time based upon the instant offense behavior. The severity of the offense determines the actual sentence and we have begun to further punish certain offenders after incarcerated for mostly political motives. This Bill is similar to Section 102 (e) 2 C of 3356 which lists categories of offenses who do not benefit from the good time.

What is so confusing about this list is not only what I referred to above regarding the Categorization of Offenses policy but also the “Early Release Procedures’ policy, Program Statement # 5331.02 which also includes excludable offenses and the director’s discretion cases. Although this subsequent policy deals with RDAP and 3621(e)- Early Release, it adds another bureaucratic layer and further complicates the entire concept of pre-release credits. The practical solution to this issue is simply returning to the “Old Law” good time system which was not only fair, equitable, and had the necessary incentives to encourage programming and good behavior; but it increased the safety of staff and inmates because inmates could earn back forfeited awards by maintain clear conduct. Inmates who followed their program plan and met work requirements and good behavior released to supervision at approximately 66% in what was referred to as “Mandatory Release”. The BOP still has old law inmates in the system so the infrastructure, familiarity and training is already part of the agency culture and SENTRY computer system. It could be implemented almost immediately at no cost and little training. Inmates who maximize the credits could be transferred to pre-release custody at 66% under varying degrees of community control based on the risk assessment. I am not suggesting a return to the parole system itself but simply the laws governing the statutory and extra good time.

A practical suggestion in regards to legislation is to use the 66% date as a community control program eligibility date for RRC and/or home detention eligibility (even work/study release).

Mentorship Pilot programs: While I am a strong supporter of expanding the Tier 2 volunteer program, it is hard to fathom how the agency is going to develop 10 pilot programs and expand tier two volunteers to ex-offenders when there are already many impediments to this program. Community members and organizations seeking Tier 2 credentials are often denied and are unaware of such clearances exist. I also question the stats that the BOP has enough of the target population to develop 10 pilots. Expanding a viable Tier 2 volunteer system with community entities like religious organizations, educational institutions, and other NGO’s is the practical solution for mentorship. Many people are unaware of the volunteer policy even exists:

Unrealistic incentives–

Good time credits: It is unimaginable the BOP has the necessary RRC infrastructure to comply with this legislation. The BOP recently terminated 16 contracts nationwide and ordinarily places even high risk inmates for less than a 6 months in the RRC.

The agency never honored the spirit and intent of the Second Chance Act of 2007 to begin with. It is well documented and pointed out even by the DOJ-IG that inmates with low risk receive longer placements than high risk inmates and direct home detention is extremely under-utilized, including the Federal Location Monitoring program administered by the AOUSC.

There is insufficient infrastructure for such a good time incentive without a massive and costly expansion of existing and new contract facilities. This is extremely troubling on that no less than 8% of the appropriations in this bill are to be given out in state and local government grants. (page 81, par.2)

More Visiting/phone: The BOP does not have the infrastructure to facilitate more visiting and telephone privileges. It is also disingenuous to refer to “more email“, when email is already unlimited. There is a limited number of telephones and computers in each unit to facilitate this incentive. In addition, the BOP does not have the staffing and existing visiting room space to facilitate more visiting.

It should be noted all these incentives are “at the discretion of the warden”.

The incentives also signal to me the privatization lobby has planted the seeds to get video technology in every prison which can enable the agency to curtail in person visiting. That is just another way to gouge the inmate population and marginalized families similar to the telephone exploitation.

Transfer closer: This incentive is also disingenuous as the bill stipulates “if space available”, etc. The BOP finds it hard to place people within 500 miles with the existing facility infrastructure so this additional, discretionary incentive simply won’t happen.

These incentives are science fiction. They will collectively create a false expectation resulting in frustration and unsafe institution environments.

Other Privatization influences:

The 30 minutes more of telephone time per day incentive & video visitation would provide more revenue for the companies that gouge families especially in light of recent legislation overturning some cap regulations.

The UNICOR provision in this bill allows them to sell products to other “prisons” which means the BOP would be selling products to the private sector prisons they are contracting with. This is problematic for the additional competition for companies in the community but is even more problematic regarding ethical considerations due to the incestuous exodus of retiring BOP wardens and administrators to private sector correction companies. Given the lack of transparency of the BOP it is hard to imagine people retiring will not bend over backwards to please their former BOP mentors and contacts who arrange post-retirement landing sites in the private sector.


This legislation will take years to develop, is nearly impossible to implement as intended and allows the BOP too much discretion. The incentives such as good time credits cannot be honored because the funding for the infrastructure is not provided. This legislation will not result in a reduction of recidivism or increase public safety. It is underfunded, includes unrealistic incentives and may actually result in less safe facilities. It is discriminatory in nature by treating people differently once incarcerated relative to good time credits and brings back elements of the failed Inmate Skills Development System recently abandoned by the Bureau of Prisons.

Many of the intended goals can be accomplished within the existing statutory and policy framework by stronger executive branch leadership and oversite.

Right Under Our Noses – Part 2

It’s been too long since I ranted on Federal prison reform but reading the March 26, 2018, letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer sparked unpleasant memories and inspired me to sit down to write this little ditty!

Anyone who has followed my blogs understands my frustration is often directed at what I call “The DC NGO Mafia” rather than the actual prison system itself. Tens of millions of dollars are funneled into hundreds of organizations by the public and philanthropists in the name of reform while the stark reality is there has historically been minimal federal prison reform for those efforts. Most of the financial resources solicited are allocated on organizational infrastructure such as staffing and rent rather than tangible direct prison related programs and services.

Meanwhile, the answer to federal prison reform is far less complicated but practical solutions do little to generate income or stroke egos within the beltway. Before we squander resources once again to re-invent the wheel by another academic study or blue ribbon commission, let’s focus on what’s right under our noses. Reform begins with changing organizational culture by treating people with dignity along with agency leadership, transparency and accountability to the public. But the most profound impact can be realized by broadening the interpretation of existing policy in the areas of vocational/education training, study/work release, compassionate release, mentoring and expanding the Level 2 volunteer system. New evidenced based programs and risk assessment tools are all fine and dandy but they can only be properly implemented once the BOP has their house in order. Most advocates and politicians are not even aware the BOP already has a risk assessment tool and had viable work and study release programs going back to the late 1980’s. The organization has simply lost sight of treatment principles and focus in the era of truth in sentencing laws. They are fostering people to become better criminals in our prison environments while turning a blind eye to subtle outcry of the incarcerated and their families. At one time the agency was a model for imitation but it has slowly and progressively taken steps backward in the area of correctional treatment.

Last October, I met with BOP Director General Mark Inch in a one on one meeting in DC to discuss reform. I had been advocating for an outside director since the Clinton administration and had hoped his selection and leadership experience was what the BOP needed so he could identify the targets and reform the agency’s culture. While it is too early to cast judgement, his preliminary move to reduce staff and his silence on Compassionate Release is a concern. I’m fully supportive of reducing the administrative bureaucracy and closing more regional offices but most of the administrative positions cut should be re-allocated to the trenches of the system to better focus on staff safety and correctional treatment. I contend that inadequate treatment creates an equal public safety risk, more subtle than, but NO different to an escape. Director Inch has a lot on the table. I’m sure he has experienced a considerable learning curve as well and the spin from his underlings attempting to perpetuate the status quo, some of which have never even worked inside a federal prison.

Watching federal prison reform legislation is like the movie Ground Hog Day. I’ve been following reform legislation since the early 1990’s while working in the trenches of the prison system. It’s a cruel and vicious cycle from a prison perspective, as each Congress circulates new bills and recirculates old ones, causing rumors to spread among people in prison and their families as if everyone was going to receive a get out of jail early card! Organizations directly solicit the marginalized populations around these bills and events with mailings asking for money. The seediest aspect, aside from ill- conceived content like S.1994, is regarding the exploitation by the politicians and lobby groups involved with the legislative process itself.

Let’s face the reality that any significant impacts on federal justice reform since the catastrophic Sentencing Reform Act of 1987; have been effectuated by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

War story time: In 2008, at the request of someone on my caseload, I reviewed the working papers from a lobby group for a bill which was eventually entered into Congress. The strategy was to draw upon the State of Texas prison reforms and get assistance from the right/left coalition. Sound familiar? What took me back was it listed the people and money they received monthly. I reviewed the content and explained to them it was “pure garbage” from a prison perspective. I still have the working papers in a manila folder which I marked “Project Garbage”. Some of the people who were getting big payouts are still roaming around Capitol Hill with different organizations while sitting at the reform table. Obviously that bill never passed but did make it to committee where 100% of these bills have died. Some of the content did morph into other subsequent bills and elements of the “work product” are actually in S.1994. The lesson learned from this was that reform is big business.

I need to be clear that I am a “lone wolf” with a passion for federal prison reform rather than a beltway insider. My passion results from the experiences of a career working inside the trenches of our Federal prison system directly with incarcerated people. The word “people” is a hot button for me when it comes to reform because the beltway types put a lot of effort into furthering the stigma by naming and renaming what is the politically correct terminology for “inmates”. My philosophy is you can simply use the word “people” in basically every scenario and reference to the incarcerated given the context of the conversation. Try it sometime! But I digress and need to get to the point of this rant.

As the right/left coalition approaches the second decade and the reformers stake out their territory, a rift has developed between the back end and front end reformers. Front end reforms are pre-sentence focused and involve issues like abolishing mandatory minimums while back end reforms are post-sentence or prison related such as correctional treatment, increased good time and re-entry programing. In the current administration, we have the contrast of Jared Kushner who is reportedly reform minded and AG Sessions who is undoubtedly anti-front end reform. While this all appears like the cyclical hype of the past few decades, there appears to be a slight possibility of back end reform only. However, the Beltway types have drawn a line and they would rather have no reform if they can’t have their way to include front end measures. Hence, the opposition letter from the Leadership Conference draws attention to all the obvious faults of S. 1994, the CORRECTIONS Act of 2017. What’s ironic is many of these deficits have been in several previous bills for at least the last two congresses so I can only assume the front end lobby has defeated the weaker back end lobby while people continue to languish in prison.

I support the opposite position and feel back end reform is better than no reform especially if it is palatable with the current administration. Although I do not support the poorly written and conceived S.1994, I view this as an opportunity to develop a better bill of practical back end reforms which may also draw attention to the numerous practical reforms which can be implemented almost immediately without legislation.

I’ve decided to name my book, Right Under Our Noses and hope to include an entire chapter on the NGO Mafia.

Right under our noses

Last week I attended the Smart on Crime Innovations Conference at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. While it was an informative experience of advocates preaching to the choir, I couldn’t help but feel like the movie Groundhog Day. The mantra of academia and the right left coalitions are the same while only the bill numbers have changed. For decades, we have been missing the mark in the federal justice reform conversation. Probably the most impactful presentations at the conference were from Silicon Valley and it was great to see technology companies taking an interest in re-entry.

Academics and organizations have studied these issues to death for decades when the answers have always been right under our noses. Probably the most profound statement I witnessed came from John Wetzel, Secretary of the PA Department of Corrections who spoke of “human dignity” and treating the incarcerated as “people”! As always, there was a discussion of what is the politically correct terminology for the word “inmate” which I’m sure is a frequent discussion at NGO Mafia luncheons and reform conferences. I wanted to jump up and say just insert the word “people” in virtually any situation and the context of the sentence takes care of itself. We will never reverse the stigma of a felony with rhetoric if we don’t address the underlying societal attitudes of our culture with action.

I use the phrase, “right under our noses” to mean there is a lesser need to study prison related issues and create new legislation until we have our house in order in the areas of changing organizational culture through leadership and public education while broadening current statutory and policy application. We can’t get ahead of ourselves with innovated programs when there is minimal accountability and transparency to the public by our federal correctional system.

Reform begins by hiring practices, training and what secretary Wetzel called treating people, yes people, with “human dignity”. I’m no bleeding heart liberal and am a believer in personal accountability but reform begins in the trenches of the system in more fundamental ways. Obviously, simultaneous practical reform legislation is needed such as the retroactive application of the crack to cocaine disparity reflected in the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, expansion of the Safety Valve provision in the sentencing guidelines and increase in the amount of good conduct time earned. However, politicians and lobby groups have corrupted the legislative process and much of the crime legislation is simply missing the mark.

As always, I lament the hundreds of organizations, salaries, rents, egos, etc. of paid reformers and wonder what could be done with the resources if they were applied towards direct programs and services. Some are making a living on reform initiatives which may parallel the income of the prison industrial complex. Unlike dysfunctional bureaucracy, it’s not politically correct to challenge such bureaucracy as we tread water in the status quo of reform.

There is an answer if anyone will listen and it’s right under our noses!

General Inch and the half full glass!

I have been reading many stories about the recent appointment of retired General Mark Inch as the new FBOP Director. Anyone who listens to my reform mantra knows I have been calling for an outside director for over a decade. The more common group think of advocates is to sound the alarm bells in a “sky is falling” mindset with the administration’s appointment of another general while I view the glass as half full!

Working for decades in the trenches of our prison system, my perspective is simply different than the average reformer. I witnessed a slow deterioration in the agency since the late 1980’s related to the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. This law which also included the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) & The Armed Criminal Act (ACC) abolished federal parole, created the U.S. Sentencing Commission and guidelines which had a profound impact on the growth of the Federal prison population and included longer terms of imprisonment.
This growth in the federal prison population created unprecedented crowding; but equally impactful was the reduction in correctional treatment resources and case management staffing . More importantly, this growth created a void in seasoned correctional leadership.

I vividly remember the caliber of wardens at that time who walked the compound like Gods, commanding as well as earning, the respect from both staff and the incarcerated. Wardens were simply a different animal and a cut above the rest. They ordinarily spent many years in the trenches as case managers and understood policy, classification and treatment concepts but most of all respect. In those days, prisons actually had a recruiter position as well as a $300 monetary incentive award for staff to refer candidates to work in the prison. I was a parole officer at the time and had applied for a job as a correctional treatment specialist after being recruited by an officer who had made $3000.00 that year alone in incentives. The facility recruiter contacted me and talked me into coming on board as a correctional officer which actually paid over$7,000 more than I was making at the time. My logic was that I would accept the position then quickly promote given my credentials. After working as an officer for a few months, I made an appointment to speak with the Warden whose name was Jesse James. We had a nice conversation and at the end he said, “Son, come back and see me in about 5 years. I was a case manager for 10 years and I believe you need to learn and pay your dues in the trenches before you’re ready to promote”. Although I was a bit taken back at the time, even Warden James was not in tune to the agency growth because within 18 months, I was not only promoted twice, but offered a Case Management Coordinator job in the mid-west in which I declined.

On a broader, organizational scale, my point is that the agency growth and rapid promotion of ill prepared managers slowly tore at the fabric of the agency culture and resulted in the weakening of the agency in many vital areas, mainly, treatment, accountability, transparency and leadership. What was once the premier correctional agency emulated by the states, has morphed into an agency that has difficulty following progressive state initiatives while being scorned by Congress in public hearings and criticized in DOJ-Inspector General reports for inefficiencies.

My point in this blog is that the upside risk of a general far outweighs the status quo. This week, I was contacted by a writer at the Marshal Project for a comment on the General’s appointment. One of my quotes related to what I referred to as a leadership void which actually caused a call to my cell from the BOP Central office who read the article.

When speaking about the leadership void, I pointed them to the 5 “vacant” Assistant Director Positons in DC. When you have 12 divisions and only 7 leadership positions filled, it’s hard to overlook such a void. However, I also pointed out I was not actually referring to the vacant AD positions but the lack of seasoned correctional leaders who are not afraid to step outside the box and address the obvious deficiencies in the agency’s transparency, responsiveness, accountability and organizational culture. Let’s take the issue of Compassionate Release. The agency continues to deny terminally ill and elderly offender candidates a referral to the sentencing court for a final decision which usurps judicial authority.

A person who is a true leader from outside the organizational culture might just be able to realize the numerous prison reforms which can be accomplished under the existing statutory and policy framework. General Inch can singlehandedly, without the need of any legislation, can accomplish more reforms going forward than all his predecessors by exercising the leadership which is missing to effectuate change. Reform can begin almost immediately by reducing bureaucracy, broadening the application of policy, holding staff and contractors accountable and increasing the “foot soldiers” at the institutional level to provide not only greater security but correctional treatment as well.

The agency which has traditionally pointed out their primary mission is to “protect the public” by incapacitation (measured by number of escapes) needs to understand the need to place effective correctional treatment programs on equal footing. The allocation of resources and greater emphasis on incapacitation over treatment only places the public at risk by recidivism and makes our communities less safe in the long run.

Let’s hope Director Inch is up to the task and we find the glass is truly half full!

Lessons learned

I recently came to the realization the best way to take this blog was to periodically cover the lessons learned during my work in the trenches of the Federal justice system as an advocate, consultant and reform freak. Going forward, I will focus on prison and legislative reforms while keeping an eye on what I refer to as “The NGO Mafia” and the “private prison industrial complex”.

Here are some observations and lessons learned during an action packed week in the Federal justice system.

My week started out with a trip to Virginia to testify in a “Miller” re-sentencing. The Supreme Court case of Miller vs Alabama overturned mandatory Life sentences for Juveniles, and then Montgomery vs Louisiana made it retroactive.

I was testifying in regards to the remarkable prison adjustment a now 34 year old had made since his confinement at the age of 15. In his adolescence he committed heinous crimes with mother and his adult brother, both who are serving Life sentences.

Given the evolution and study of brain development, the fact that this person was under the influence of his adult family members and his ability to excel as well as avoid assimilation into the prison subculture;, one would hope there would be redemption, compassion and common sense exercised in our federal judicial system. I am not an optimist when it comes to our justice system having served a career in federal prison environments involving daily interaction with thousands of people living in the system. That being said, I went to the hearing with the expectation of a positive outcome with the potential for a second chance. It was a 4 hour emotional hearing and many family members for two murdered victims provided the court with heart wrenching testimony about the impact the crime had on their lives. I have attended victim impact panels and victim trainings before but this was more intense than I had previously experienced. As each person gave their testimonial, my optimism waned. When it was all said and done, the judge imposed a 65 year sentence as recommended by the prosecutor. My perception was that the sentence was long determined before the hearing as the judge read from a prepared statement with a matter of fact demeanor.

You can call it a “second chance’ but this 32 year old will be 70 years old upon release. I have no problem with “punishment” but the mitigating factors warranted something more in the range of the defense attorney’s recommendation for 35 years.

Lesson: Punishment trumps mitigation in Virginia!

On Wednesday, I traveled to Connecticut to conduct prison related training for Federal Judges and United States Probation Officers. I was impressed with the progressive nature of the court staff and their focus on correctional treatment with a desire to better understand out Federal prison system. We travel all over the country to conduct this training and I am constantly reminded of the lack of understanding Federal prison culture, policy and nuances. A wall exists (no pun intended) between the courts, the prison system and the public. The frustration in this lack of accountability and transparency is apparent in my conversations with attorneys, court personnel, families and even law enforcement. It was refreshing to have a positive, upbeat dialogue with the court staff after the let- down suffered at Monday’s sentencing.

Lesson: Our Federal prison system needs to make a better effort on the education, responsiveness and transparency for court personnel and the public so people being sentenced can receive adequate correctional treatment and re-entry preparation.

At the end of the week, I came across an article in my daily reading that hit close to home and covered a point broader in nature which I had never given much consideration to. The Opioid and prescription drug epidemic has decimated both the urban and rural areas of our country where overdoses have skyrocketed. I worked in a Federal jail operation for many years and our saying was “3 hots and a cot”. It’s well known jail populations receive very little correctional treatment services which is a big issue when you consider the information contained in the following article:

Of course the downside to this is the further institutionalization of people with addiction issues; however, it is something to reconsider.

Lesson: More treatment options at the front end has the potential to be built upon during incarceration and could potentially create a safer environment and a reduction in recidivism.


Eureka – Outside the Box

Last week, I was invited by Kevin Ring to participate on a panel in the Capitol Building regarding the subject of “Compassionate Release”. FAMM was previewing a new video called 5 to Life” highlighting the many frustrations families feel while trying to navigate the Federal Bureau of Prisons for a terminally ill family member.

The video reinforces some of the more disturbing aspects of government bureaucracy and the BOP culture in general. The agency has very little compassion for people and families caught up in the American justice system. It was satisfying to participate in the panel discussion after the viewing to repeat my mantra about how many Federal prison reform initiatives can be accomplished internally, without legislation through leadership under the existing policy framework. It might sound simplistic; but leadership, accountability, transparency and a broader application of policy can lead to significant reforms.

It was delightful to hear Judge Gertner, who was interviewed in the video, speak about the “broadening” of policy. Though the BOP does hold all the cards, it’s when they decide to deal them which is fundamental to the equation. One of the points I made during the Q & A was about how the BOP historically tracks and set deadlines for all types of programs and paperwork activities. Going all the way back to the 80’s, I had to process and complete International Treaty Transfer applications (which include extensive paperwork) within 30 days of someone’s request. The BOP still does not mandate a processing time for Compassionate release requests and only recently developed computer tracking assignments after being pressured by Congressional hearings and reports like “The Answer is No” by FAMM and Human Rights Watch. Despite the public attention, pressure and policy changes, compassionate release approvals continue at a snail’s pace. In addition, the BOP continues to deny applications at various levels without providing a completed application to the sentencing court with their recommendation for the final determination. That means the sentencing Judge’s authority is usurped by the agency.

One of the more salient points I made was the Bureau of Prisons is a top/down, quasi-like militaristic agency which operates by internal memoranda via the chain of command. If the BOP Director made the decision to accelerate the process and make CR requests a priority; it would literally happen overnight. In one computer transaction, the BOP can even run a national roster of terminally ill people and take an even more proactive stance on the issue to better facilitate requests. With the shortage of Federal medical center beds, statements by a former BOP Director about medical staffing at crisis levels and yearly cost estimates at upwards of $60,000 a year at taxpayer expense, why would the agency not better facilitate the ability of people to die at home with dignity? Most incarcerated, terminally ill people are NOT a public safety risk given their medical condition and fact the CR program requires they are confined to home detention by electronic monitoring technology under the supervision of a United States Probation officer.

This leads to my “eureka” moment. During the panel, an audience member asked why the BOP is such an obstructionist agency when it comes to this process. I found myself answering the question from a BOP mentality having worked for decades in that culture.  I basically replied the BOP’s primary mission is to “protect the public”. That is the very first thing agency administrators espouse at internal training sessions, staff orientation and the public. Correctional treatment and to a lesser extent, “compassion”, are simply second fiddle. Bureaucrats err on the side of caution and seldom think or act outside the box because they are afraid of a Willie Horton type event. That night I woke in the middle of the night and a thought came to me which is probably too far outside the box for most to comprehend, especially BOP administrators.

What if the BOP culture put correctional treatment and human dignity on equal footings with security? What if their training not only put equal emphasis on these concepts but also allocated equal resources as well? BOP Wardens and other administrators use the example of success by the number of escapes because an escaped person is a public safety risk. So I argue (tongue in cheek but just to make the point) that even if diminished resources for custodial/security purposes resulted in the increase of an escape now and then; it would dwarf the current public risk and costs we currently have by releasing people to communities without providing adequate correctional treatment by way of education, vocation, counseling and humane treatment.

In my humble opinion, issues like CR will not change until outside leadership prioritizes correctional treatment and is held more accountable to the tax paying public by responsiveness and transparency. Changes need to be made within the agency culture and it can start with the better education and involvement of House Judiciary members who control the purse strings for the agency budget. While the BOP has grown more immune to the press, they jump through hoops when they feel their budget is in jeopardy.




















Footnote:  I was able to write this article without using the word “inmate”. Rather than spending time and resources deciding and changing what we call the incarcerated, I find the word “people” can be substituted in virtually every situation given the context!  Try it next time!



Just what we need! Another national crime commission. NOT

Once again, another “bi-partisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill last week to create a “National Criminal Justice Commission” to review every aspect of the nation’s justice system from policing to prisons.  It’s my opinion the national justice reform movement has become just as dysfunctional as our political system. It is time to stop the studies, blue ribbon commissions  and right left coalitions and get something accomplished.

I testified to the Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections a while back. In hindsight, I feel it was just another example of politicians, academics and lawyers making non-binding recommendations on the prison reform road to nowhere. These commissions do nothing more than feed egos and drain resources away from tangible reform efforts. It’s frustrating to experience this beltway dysfunction year after year when the answers are right under our noses.

My mantra is, and always has been, many positive reform efforts in all areas of our justice system can be accomplished under the existing policy framework by leadership. The groups driving the reform movement, who I refer to as the “Beltway NGO Mafia”  seem to be more concerned with raising money, sponsoring events  patting each other on the back about accomplishments when the reality is there has been very little Federal reform attributed to their efforts over the past few decades.  I realize this blog is a bit confrontational and has a repetitive theme to previous blogs but I’m hoping someone will eventually listen to the message.

I would like to challenge someone to calculate how much money is spent on justice reform by way of DC organization budgets and lobbying for crime bills going nowhere. Philanthropists and our citizens in general are being taken advantage of given their return on investment especially when it comes to federal prison reform.

The answer in not in the creation of another commission to study the issues from a beltway perspective. The answer is to identify what is already working at the national level and putting resources into evidenced based programs. Diversionary courts, justice education at the elementary level, ombudsman type programs and addressing the myriad of collateral consequences of a conviction are a good start.

At this point you may think “where’s the beef” so I’ll tell you where we can start at the Federal level:

Lets’ form a public/private partnership for a pilot “Comprehensive Community Justice and Treatment Center” (CCJTC).  This would be a model, urban center which would include diversionary courts on site, day treatment  for drug and mental health issues, educational and vocational training, residential and non residential units not only for re-entry (half way in/halfway out) but for justice involved people who have demonstrated the responsibility to serve their sentences securely within their community.

One of the biggest impediments to correctional treatment is the warehousing of people far from community resources and the family. Correctional treatment can be better accomplished when the stakeholders have more involvement in not only delivering services but obtaining services from our correctional population. Educational institutions, faith based organizations, NGO’s and individual volunteers can also take a more collaborative and active role in our prisons once they are located in or near urban areas. This urban, community and restorative justice approach can result in more effective correctional treatment to lower recidivism.

It’s the formulation of a coalition with a concreate goal like this concept is what is needed not another blue ribbon commission to study the problem Ad Nauseam!