QUESTION: FEDERAL REENTRY CRISIS IN THE MAKING? ANSWER: YES
PNO first heard from some of our clients that the date they were to be transferred to a halfway house was being pushed back because halfway houses were closing or the BOP was not going to renew the contracts of several halfway houses. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) verified the rumors and conducted a survey of its 30,000 members and contacts within the BOP.
The results, wrote FAMM President Kevin Ring, were “disturbing.” At least 16 halfway houses in many parts of the country are closing, and as a result the release dates for people who were expecting to be transferred to halfway houses have been set back by as much as six months. The results of FAMM’s survey is available in its on-line newsletter.
Now it appears that in addition to not renewing contracts, the BOP is reducing the number of inmates it sends to halfway houses and reducing time allowed in halfway houses to less than that needed by returning citizens searching for employment or housing or to complete drug treatment programs, and otherwise make the transition to freedom. The halfway house closings and reductions in services were a major topic at Congressional oversight hearings in the House on Wednesday 13 December, 2017. FAMM submitted written testimony which describes the problems created by the BOP’s actions. Legislators pressed Director Inch on the reduction in reentry services provided by halfway houses. According to Samantha Michaels reporting for Mother Jones, and The Crime Report, they obtained few satisfactory answers.
This is a developing issue of great concern to PNO and we will follow up as we obtain additional information.
PNO NOW DEVELOPING A SET OF PRINCIPLES FOR REENTRY IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Finding a need for a set of guiding principles with which to inform and educate policymakers and unify the many different organizations engaged in reentry services and support, PNO is currently drafting a set of “Principles Underlying a Sound Approach to Reentry Services in the District of Columbia.” Leaders from the four reentry-oriented policy, advocacy and service providers’ organizations are participating in the drafting of these principles. Although tailored to the unique situations in the District of Columbia, these principles will be relevant to reentry in other jurisdictions.
Please refer to PNO’s Resources page for additional information and instructions on participating in the development of these principles.
PNO ADVISES THE D.C. COUNCIL: A “PORTAL OF REENTRY” APPROVED LAST SPRING IS CONCEPTUALLY FLAWED, BUT LEGISLATION NOW PENDING IS “IMPORTANT, GAME-CHANGING”
On 1 May 2017 Malcolm Young and Norman Brown testified before the District of Columbia’s City Council Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization in support of a bill that would have authorized and paid for additional case workers and for strategic planning for the Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens Affairs (“MORCA”). However, PNO recommended against provisions in the same bill which authorized an allocation of $2.4 M for the creation of a “Portal of Reentry” operated principally by the District’s own Department of Corrections. In PNO’s judgment, the “Portal” was an expensive but inefficient way to serve the reentry needs of individuals in a jail setting. 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 were currently only two.
The bill passed and was signed by the Mayor. It became effective 1 October 2017. As of December 2017, the Portal has not yet been implemented. Allocated funds have not been spent.
At a December 7, 2017 hearing before the Council’s Judiciary Committee Malcolm Young and Norman Brown enthusiastically endorsed the “Returning Citizens Opportunity to Succeed Amendment Act of 2017.” They singled out two key provisions of the Act which would require MORCA to find and record the names of District residents who will be released from BOP, and then to reach out to them individually six months in advance of their release with information including MORCA’s contact information. These two steps put returning citizens in contact with the agency that can assist with the specifics of each individual’s reentry sufficiently in advance of their transfer to halfway houses or home detention. This approach, PNO offered, has “the potential … to bring the District of Columbia to the forefront among cities and localities that seek to improve reentry from the federal prison system.”
Young and Brown also addressed concerns that the approach outlined in the legislation could be frustrated in the event that the BOP declined to provide MORCA with a list of returning citizens six months in advance of their release. PNO assured the Committee that there are several other ways in which a D.C. reentry organization could obtain this information.
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 Povah 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 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.