Prisoners to be released in North Dakota, 54 in Minnesota

30 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

6,000 drug offenders to be released from federal prison starting Friday.

About 6,000 drug offenders will be released from federal custody over the next few days, but some legal experts warn that the government has done too little to help many of them successfully reintegrate into society. Washington – Thousands of federal inmates serving sentences for drug crimes are set for early release this weekend under a cost-cutting measure intended to reduce the nation’s prison population.On Oct. 1, a bipartisan group of senators introduced an omnibus bill that aims to yank our criminal justice system out of the “tough on crime” era that slammed shut the doors on a generation of offenders. The Justice Department said Wednesday that more than 4,300 inmates are set to go free on or around Nov. 1, the first of what will likely be tens of thousands benefiting from changes approved last year by the US Sentencing Commission.

Hailed by some, the federal “Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act” would do all this and more: reduce mandatory minimum sentences for many drug crimes, retroactively get rid of the differences in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine, seal and expunge more juvenile records, limit solitary confinement for juvenile offenders, offer compassionate release for elderly prisoners, and reduce sentences if a prisoner gets involved in programs that have in the past reduced recidivism. Achieving large gains, the study found, would also require politically difficult measures to slash the number of people sent to federal prisons in the first place, not just shortening their terms. The vast majority have spent only a short time in a halfway house — not the six months to a year normally required for drug offenses — before being transferred to the much looser restrictions of home confinement.

That would require charging fewer drug dealers with felonies and diverting more of them to drug courts, treatment programs or other alternatives. “Now everybody seems ready to spike the ball in the end zone,” said Ryan King, an author of the two reports, referring to the bipartisan push to moderate some drug sentences. “These forecasts provide a reality check.” The new forecasting tool is the second of its kind from the statistical modelers at the Urban Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank in Washington. In a background briefing on Wednesday, a Justice Department official told reporters that 77 percent of those being released in the coming days are currently in half-way houses or in home confinement. With their previous interactive graphic, the Prison Population Forecaster, released in August, the researchers focused on state prisons, which hold 86 percent of the country’s prison inmates. And like others, I’ve concluded that U.S. prisons create better criminals, not better people – which is very costly not just to those who will be re-incarcerated, but to taxpayers, to all of us with whom former prisoners will live when they are released, and to anyone concerned with public safety. In many of the states, significantly reversing what has been a fourfold jump in the incarceration rate since the 1970s would require more contentious decisions, like curbing sentences for violent criminals.

Prisoners being released include 250 from California, 310 from Florida, 260 from Illinois, 95 from Maryland, 100 from Pennsylvania, 163 from Virginia and 35 from Connecticut. The total of 205,795 inmates in federal facilities at the beginning of October made up a small share of the 1.6 million people in all prisons nationwide (not including those in local jails). But they have an outsize place in the national conversation because Congress and the president can set federal sentencing laws and because many are questioning the stiff mandatory minimums adopted in the federal war on drugs. Each case was then reviewed by a federal judge in the district in which the inmate’s case was tried in order to determine whether it would be beneficial to public safety to grant the prisoner early release.

In stark contrast with the states, where only 16 percent of inmates are in for drug convictions and half have been sentenced for violent offenses, drug offenders dominate federal prisons, accounting for 49 percent of inmates. Most ex-offenders are unemployed because they didn’t go far in school, they can’t show much in the way of a work history, and they were convicted of crimes before. About 6,000 federal prisoners are normally released under supervision each month, and many already fill the system’s 209 halfway houses. “Halfway houses are pretty close to capacity,” said Young, who has been studying the issue but said he has been unable to get details from federal officials. The Obama administration has already asked federal prosecutors to be more discriminating in pursuit of mandatory sentences, and the federal prison population, after years of steep growth, declined slightly over the last two years. The sentencing reductions will bring those sentences down to an average of about 8.5 years.” All 50 states will receive inmates, as will the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.

Edmund Ross, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, said that under normal circumstances, most prisoners are sent to halfway houses before transitioning to home confinement. Texas, Florida and Illinois will see the highest number of released federal inmates – Texas will receive 597, Florida will receive 310 and Illinois will have 260 prisoners claim residency within its borders, according to Justice Department data. The natural ingenuity of prisoners – especially those who once managed successful (illicit) businesses – suggests that education to become entrepreneurs in legitimate industries would be ideal.

Making some types of drug possession a misdemeanor rather than a felony and placing some drug offenders in mandatory treatment or other so-called diversion programs has helped some states, like New York, cut prison populations. That’s not counting what we might want to spend on paper, pens or stamps, money for phone calls to loved ones (often more than $1/minute, thanks to greedy prison phone companies and commission-hungry wardens). Since the wages we earned from prison jobs were scarcely enough to survive, hustling was the only option available for most. “Dred” was one of my many fellow prisoners whose hustle showed real entrepreneurial ingenuity.

From the cell next door, he ran a bustling Jamaican eatery, serving delicious meals cooked with ingredients pilfered (sometimes by me) from the prison’s warehouse. Prison was teeming with ambitious men like Dred who wanted to fly straight, and there probably wasn’t a single concept taught at the Wharton School that he didn’t grasp. Decent prison educational programs are rare, and the 2008-2009 recession accelerated a decades-long austerity trend, as legislators cut “non-essential” prison services like vocational training. Upon their release, 650,000 people annually land on America’s doorsteps to try to succeed in communities where they once failed — now with the added baggage of prison records. A recent RAND meta-study found that prison educational program participants were far less likely to re-offend than nonparticipants, resulting in a 43 percent recidivism reduction – 85,000 fewer offenders annually, if extrapolated nationally.

RAND’s findings also suggest that prison education is cost-effective: while education costs average $1,572 per inmate, reincarceration costs average $9,250 less for each prisoner who received education than for those who did not — a 6-to-1 net benefit. Without the prospect of another election, President Obama has shown interest in reform – backing the recently-filed legislation, and issuing an executive order re-instituting Pell Grants grant for federal prisoners. There are three main domestic policy wings to the modern Republican Party — fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and libertarians — and all have compelling reasons to support criminal justice reform. The Democratic Party spent much of the 1980s and ’90s struggling to shed its cartoonishly libertine 1960s image, leaving them to “outbid” Republicans to see who could be tougher on crime—especially crimes disproportionately committed by African Americans. That empowered correctional officers’ unions, which would later help pass “Three Strikes” laws in more than two dozen other states, and who remain skeptical of reforms that would threaten their jobs en masse.

Some correctional officers (COs) taunted men who were preparing to go home, with lines like “See you in six months.” Most staff made their disdain for prisoners clear and their lack of interest in rehabilitation even clearer. Prison culture can’t be transformed until society stops seeing prison as a warehouse for society’s throwaways and starts seeing it as a costly revolving door and massive waste of human potential. A failure to transform our collective worldview essentially guarantees – just as the COs who once ruled my life sneeringly predicted – that most parolees will indeed return to prison soon. Smith Goes to Prison: What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America’s Prison Crisis.” He spent a year in prison after pleading guilty to obstructing justice in a federal investigation in campaign financing.

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