Crunch Time for Federal Prison Reform

I listened in on the Washington Post Criminal Justice forum yesterday. One of the panels involved Congressman Goodlatte of the House Judiciary who seemed a bit pessimistic about movement on criminal justice reform during this lame duck session of Congress.

What was telling is rather than speak of an upcoming vote, he mentioned there was a member “briefing” last week and there would be one again this week.   Kevin Ring of FAMM was equally sullen and it seemed like the only person on the panel with passion was Steve Cook of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys who oppose reform as articulated in their September 8 letter to House members.  http://www.naausa.org/site/index.php

I pull no punches with my take on reform that it is big business within the beltway and profitable like the Prison Industrial Complex. It’s great for lobbyists, politicians, egos and what I refer to as the Beltway “NGO Mafia”. I am a bit tainted having worked with people within the system for 30 years but; like the Aerosmith song, “it’s the same old song and dance”. (In my humble opinion). I truly hope I’m wrong this time because the media campaigns attached to the current lobbying efforts have even me wondering if this time is different.   

This morning, I read a National Review article from Grover Norquist about how it’s time to pass reform. These articles and the references to this “Right/Left” coalition are becoming passe. From a procedural standpoint, none of the 11 reform related bills have passed the full house or senate. Though the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (aka: SRACA) gets the most hype as of late, it still needs to come to a full vote then be reconciled, etc.

I’m deeply disappointed in the Corrections related provisions of SACRA which penalize our more marginalized populations by unequally awarding extra good time and allowing the Bureau of Prisons too much discretion and time regarding program implementation. My mantra is there are many more practical solutions to reform which can be implemented within the current policy and statutory framework.

Long ago, I wrote about our squandering of the perfect storm of prison reform and have been in many heated discussions because of my skepticism. I’ve watched clients and families give hundreds of thousands of dollars towards this hype for decades and it appears the end game is no different this time. I am looking forward to both the House and Senate to prove me wrong but I’m not holding my breath in doing so.  

On the bright side, companies like Google have recognized the need for reform and the societal impacts of the carceral state. Let’s just hope their resources; like that of philanthropist billionaires, doesn’t go to lobbyists, politicians and organizational budgets. Federal prison reform does not need to be some massive legislative undertaking. It starts with leadership, vision and a field perspective all missing from the reform table.