Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Few Surprises in New Bureau of Prisons Population Report

The July 13, 2012 population figures for the Federal Bureau of Prisons continues the recent trends of disproportionate numbers of minorities and drug offenders being incarcerated.

Almost half of all federal prisoners, or 48.2%, are categorized as drug offenders, the vast majority of which are nonviolent. More violent crimes, including weapons violations, explosives, arson, homicide, kidnapping and sex offenses comprise only 29 per cent.

Interestingly, 12% of those incarcerated are confined for immigration crimes, generally illegal re-entry. Why are these people in federal prison they are subject to immediate deportation, after notice and a hearing?

Blacks still comprise almost 38% of those in federal detention, three times greater than their percentage of the U.S. population, although those of Hispanic descent are closing in fast, with 34.7% of all prisoners of that ethnicity.

Approximately 40,000 prisoners are currently in private contract facilities, which includes halfway house residents, who are technically subject to the BOP but not under their direct custody or control.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

On Mandatory Minimums

In a 645-page report prepared by the United States sentencing Commission for Congress, the Commission found that "mandatory minimum" sentencing penalties are excessively severe and unjust, especially in instances where there is no physical harm or threat of physical harm. "While there is a spectrum of views on the Commission regarding mandatory minimum penalties, the Commission unanimously believes that certain mandatory minimum penalties apply too broadly, are excessively severe, and are applied inconsistently across the country," said Commission chairwoman Judge Patti Saris. The study comprised a review of 73,239 cases completed in 2010.

The study also showed that black convicted offenders are the group least likely to earn relief from mandatory minimum sentencing. this should come as no surprise to those familiar with the racial breakdown in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. In the BOP, a disproportionate number of prisoners are black, relative to the population of the U.S.

Blacks also received the lowest rate of relief under the "safety valve" provisions, either because of their criminal history or the usage of a dangerous weapon in the commission of a drug crime. "Safety valve" relief is a method by which low-level, non-violent, first-time offenders can be sentenced below the statutory minimum sentence.

The figures for relief from mandatory minimum sentencing for accused offenders cooperating with the government was broken down along racial lines as follows: Black, 34.9%; White, 46.5%; Hispanic, 55.7%; and other races, 58.9%. The figures for relief in "safety valve" in the BOP were as follows: Black, 11.1%; white, 26.7%; Hispanic, 53.8%; and other races, 36.6%.

The Sentencing Commission's study also made other key findings: 27% of offenders were convicted of mandatory minimum offenses; 75% if those sentenced under mandatory minimum were convicted of a drug trafficking offense; 14.5% received no relief from mandatory minimum sentencing; and those receiving a mandatory minimum sentence received an average sentence of 139 months, compared to an average sentence of 63 months for those offenders who received relief from a mandatory minimum sentence.

The study is just one of the many recent studies and public comments which share one common theme: the federal sentencing guidelines are not only too harsh, but are inequitably applied by judges. With most objective studies showing drug use by the general population holding steady among all racial groups, the policy of harsh drug sentencing given black offenders is not supportable. With population levels in the BOP at or near record highs, and most institutions holding at lest 20% more prisoners than their rated capacities, a review of federal sentencing practices is long overdue. As long as federal prosecutors can hold the threat of excessively long sentences over the heads of the accused if they choose to exercise their constitutional right of a jury of their peers, the nation's prisons will continue to be overcrowded.

SEE: "The National Law Journal,", by Marcia Coyle, Oct. 31, 2011.

Friday, July 13, 2012

More Thoughts on Immigration

Publicity surrounding the "War on Terror" has resulted in increased concerns about border security, and spilled over into increased domestic pressure on undocumented aliens. This increased pressure and massive expenditure of federal dollars has taken place with little regard for its social or human rights consequences. Unlike criminally-charged U.S. citizens, who have an array of constitutional protections, guaranteed access to an attorney in all felony cases and many misdemeanor cases, the undocumented alien generally has much more limited sums and resources to defend themselves from harassment, arrest, and deportation. In many instances, the children of the undocumented, even if citizens by virtue of birth in the U.S., are at risk of losing one or both parents to deportation.

ICE's predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, (INS), came into being as part of the Justice Department in 1921, when the federal government realized that unfettered immigration was not in the country's best interest. INS was, at best, a poor stepchild of Justice, receiving minimal resources and manpower. It had massive responsibilities, at least on paper, but was not given the money to carry them out. Lost alien files and spotty enforcement were common. INS' best employees routinely sought transfers to other more respected areas of law enforcement.

All of this changed after 9/11, when the Homeland Security Act of 2002 opened the funding floodgates, and brought about the transfer of INS responsibilities into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in 2003.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Feds' Alien Detentions Good Business, but Human Rights Morass

Internal Immigration and customs Enforcement (ICE) internal records, obtained with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, reveal a "bleak picture of the inside of the nation's immigration detention system," according to the Houston Chronicle newspaper. The records indicate that in its haste to deport aliens without proper documentation, ICE is causing unnecessary human suffering.

It is also apparent that the U.S. government's policies on immigration have created what human rights organizations have termed as a "detention-industrial complex". The proliferation of private detention centers and prisons have created problems in enforcing federal immigration laws similar to the problems the increase in private Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state and county detention centers have caused in the criminal justice system, however, the abuses inflicted upon often defenseless immigration detainees has gone largely unnoticed.

The American penchant for increasing and maintaining high prison populations that has prevailed since the 1980s has spilled over into immigration enforcement. The U.S., despite numerous studies showing long prison terms do not reduce crime, still houses roughly 1/4 of the entire world's detainees. Between 1970 and 2005, the number of people imprisoned in the U.S. increases over 100%. Although extreme overcrowding in the BOP and a hefty budget that have increased public skepticism of the high prison population, the massive increases in ICE's budget has so far escaped criticism.