PNO: THE SAME KIND OF MISUNDERSTANDING ABOUT ADDICTION THAT SENT CLEMENCY RECIPIENT CAROL RICHARDSON BACK TO PRISON COULD COST THOUSANDS OF LIVES
Carol Richardson was granted clemency and released from the BOP on July 28, 2016. Less than one year later, in June 2017 she was returned to prison for having failed to report to her supervising federal probation officer, moving without permission, leaving her employment and being convicted in state court of the theft of $60 worth of laundry detergent the proceeds of which she expected to use to purchase drugs. With an untreated addiction as she left prison and inability after prison to continue the prescription that controlled her chronic depression, Ms. Richardson had begun abusing again.
Her story received national coverage with a slant toward Ms. Richardson’s failure to take advantage of the “second chance” clemency gave her and an off-the-shelf quote from her federal prosecutor about her “willful disregard for the law” for which she must, of course, “face the consequence.”
PNO Project Director Malcolm C. Young takes a look at Ms. Richardson’s case, drawing on public information published by Amy Tovah of CAN-DO, an early advocate for Ms. Richardson and on other sources.
Young found that Ms. Richardson’s situation wasn’t a failure of clemency. She never really got the “second chance” of a planned, thought-out reentry. Ms. Richardson also shared the disadvantages many women encounter when leaving prison.
But the most important lesson coming out of Ms. Richardson’s experience is for a nation in the grips of a deadly opioid crisis. Richardson goes back to prison because most people in the legal system equate an addict’s misbehavior with a “willful disregard” of law that must be punished instead of arranging for serious, clinically sound treatment of the disease. Applied to entire regions of the country, this doctrine will result not only in the incarceration of thousands more like Ms. Richardson but tens of thousands of overdose deaths.
Young’s essay is available here. PNO Statement about Reincarceration
PNO and 27 ORGANIZATIONS URGE CONGRESS TO ADVANCE REFORMS
On June 28, 2017 Project New Opportunity and 27 other national and Washington, D. C.-based justice reform organizations representing the Justice Roundtable wrote Representatives Trey Gowdy and Elijah Cummings, Chair and Ranking Member of the U. S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to request that both “support and advance criminal justice legislative reforms aimed at meaningfully addressing the primary drivers of unwarranted racial disparities, prison overcrowding, unnecessarily harsh sentences and unsustainable costs in the federal system.”
The letter cited recent strides toward more proportional and cost-effective outcomes leading to a 30,000 decrease in the number of federal prisoners and concerns about Attorney General Sessions’ recent directive to prosecutors “to charge an pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.” Specific reforms included: reduce mandatory minimum sentences; restore proportionality to drug sentencing; expand BOP’s Compassionate Release Program which was meant to allow release under “‘extraordinary and compelling, circumstances,” and expanding time credits for good behavior.
The group’s letter is available here.
PNO CLIENTS KNOW THE PAIN OF LONG INCARCERATION. THEIR LIVES AFTER RELEASE SHOW WHY ATTORNEY GENERAL SESSIONS' "WAR ON DRUGS" CHARGING AND SENTENCING POLICY IS WRONG.
On 10 May 2017, Attorney General Session instructed all federal prosecutors to file “the most serious, readily provable” charges and to seek the longest prison sentences allowed under federal law, reverting to the “war on drugs” charging policies put in place by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2003. In 2010, President Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder, essentially withdrew the Ashcroft policy and encouraged more lenient charging.
Session’s instructions to all federal prosecutors doesn’t change the reduced sentences given the 1,700 individuals to whom President Obama granted clemency and the nearly 30,000 individuals whose sentences were shortened as a result of changes in federal sentencing guidelines for drug offense authorized by the United States Sentencing Commission with Congress’ concurrence.
More than 130 of these are PNO’s clients. They know what it will be like for individuals prosecuted according to Sessions’ mandate. During years or decades of incarceration they lost parents, sisters and brothers, spouses and children. Now they are working hard to overcome the effects of incarceration and to learn —and earn— their way in a changed world. And they are doing well. Among them are people whose talents, capabilities and contributions are waiting to be tapped, people with good lives to live and much to give. They did not need to be incarcerated all these long years.
But the charging and sentencing policies Sessions has instructed all federal prosecutors to implement will create thousands of more federal prison inmates with sentences as unnecessarily harsh as those originally imposed on our clients. The federal prison population, which had declined from over 220,000 to about 190,000, will now start to increase.
Sessions’ instructions drew strenuous objections, not only from liberal and traditional criminal justice reformers such as the ACLU, NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Brennen Center to name a few, but from politicians on the right such as Senator Rand Paul and from key player Koch Industries’ spokesperson Mark Holden. Still, as described in a Rolling Stone profile of Steve Cook, “Meet Jeff Sessions’ right-hand drug warrior,” (May 8, 2017) the push for harsh sentencing is strong within this Department of Justice.
PNO TO DC GOVERNMENT: "YES" TO STRATEGIC PLANNING, BUT FUNDS FOR "PORTAL" WOULD BE BETTER SPENT ON SERVICES AND ADVOCACY FOR RETURNING CITIZENS
Young and Brown were asked to appear before the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization, Council of the District of Columbia on 1 May 2017 to testify in support of a Council for Court Excellence proposal for funds for strategic planning for D. C.’s reentry agency and to offer recommendations regarding a proposed $2.3 Million allocation for a new Department of Corrections “Portal” comprised of agency staff relocated to a single location.
As do most jurisdictions, the District wrestles with reentry for its citizens returning from prison.
PNO supported the CCE’s request for funds for strategic planning at the Mayor’s Office for Returning Citizens (MORCA). PNO questioned the utility of the proposed “portal”. PNO’s principle objections were that housing a new reentry unit in the Department of Corrections would lead to “mission conflict” between corrections staff supervising inmates and corrections staff hired to serve as reentry advisors of some sort. The only “portal” model known to PNO serves as a central discharge location for Florida’s far-flung state prison system and is largely redundant for the already-centrally located jail population in D. C. PNO urged that funds allocated to build-out and staffing the Portal would be better used by increasing MORCA’s staff of case workers, of which there are currently only two.