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 et.al. 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……