Just about every day, there is yet another article on criminal justice reform. Just today, we read about the video released by the Whitehouse regarding the president traveling over the next few weeks to speak with leaders around the country.
While it all sounds great, the president may truly be missing the mark if relying mostly on the feedback of “leaders”. After retiring from the DOJ, it is my experience that it is the “Leaders” who have the most distant perspective from reality when it comes to prison reform and what is really happening at ground level. It is the forward thinkers working in the trenches of our prisons and our people (yes people) who have served time who have a pulse on the system, quality of services and what it will take to accomplish reform. Where are these voices when it comes to ownership and having a seat at the table when “Blue Ribbon” Commissions and task forces are formed?
It’s a great photo op and sound bite when people who have served time are briefly paraded in front of the “leaders” to testify, but where is their seat at that same table? There is a greater need for the stakeholders to be more than just NGO academics, lawyers and lobbyists from within the beltway to drive the reform dialogue. Actually, it is more than just a need for even policy and legislative change. It is equally important to understand and change organizational culture by listening to people who have no ulterior motives or organizational biases and/or filters.
I am concerned on two fronts regarding the recent developments and desperation on Federal crime bill legislation. Both concerns are equally troubling but typical given the dysfunction, mainly status quo, within the beltway.
My first fear is the president will sign anything which makes it to his desk, regardless of the efficacy to fulfill his legacy. My second concern is this climate of desperation, money and lobby groups controlling politicians have finally convinced hold outs to jump on board to move substandard, compromised legislation.
As the companies controlling the prison industrial complex read the writing on the wall, it makes perfect sense for entities like ALEC to pivot from obstructing prison reduction legislation and lobby for bills offering millions for re-entry programs and services. I would imagine the GEO Group and CCA are salivating on the potential of obtaining correctional treatment related contracts where overhead is low and profit is extremely high.
Excuse my pessimism; but as I close my eyes and cross my fingers for a meaningful, comprehensive Omnibus Crime bill, I have a few questions for those within the beltway:
Does anyone remember the Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections? Though I have limited faith in Blue Ribbon Commissions, why would legislation get passed without Colson Report findings when 1 million dollars was just spent to study the BOP, legislation and population reduction?
With such a large BOP bureaucracy and mandate to offer correctional treatment and re-entry services prior to release, why are we allocating so much money to programs which are supposedly already being delivered by paid government workers and current contracts?
What do you tell the people incarcerated and their families who don’t meet the restrictive criteria to be eligible for the extra good time awards and other benefits?
Why does the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act automatically exclude many types of offenders for political expediency regardless of looking at the underlying causes of the criminogenic factors?
Perhaps the most important question is why have we not taken full advantage of the reforms under the current statutory and policy framework which could be implemented immediately through LEADERSHIP?
As the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, SAFE ACT, CORRECTIONS ACT, Reauthorization of the Second Chance Act, Justice Safety Valve Act, Redeem Act and others compete for passage, I hope we won’t look back at this perfect climate of the right/left alliance as a wasted opportunity by passing something as short sighted as the Sentencing Reform Act of 1987!