Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Time for Administration's Actions to Match Rhetoric on Immigration

     For the past several years we have all been witness to the spectacle where political leaders pay lip service to helping the nation's disadvantaged. After all, the rich can take care of themselves, they say. I agree with that opinion, but it is time to actually do something..  One of the responsibilities of an effective government  is giving relief to the powerless and helpless, you know,  the very groups that can't afford the high-priced lobbyists who dole out huge campaign contributions to sympathetic Congressmen and Senators.  Who fits the definition of powerless more than the undocumented?

     This administration, although enjoying high levels of support both in opinion polls and at the ballot box from many spokesmen of these very disadvantaged groups, is deporting undocumented aliens at  a record pace, and still jailing minor drug offenders from minority groups in increasing numbers, with each year seeing tens of thousands more families and children thrown into turmoil by having a family member arrested or deported.

     There is an old saying in politics is that to find what politicians and the powerful are interested in, follow the money.  In the past year, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama Administration spent more on immigration enforcement, $18 billion,  than on all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined.  The number of immigrants processed  by Homeland Security dwarfs all other federal detentions.   According to Homeland Security's own statistics, in fiscal 2012, a record 409,849 people were deported, as opposed to the 188,467 shipped out in 2000.

  It is time to get serious on immigration reform, and  to start spending money on more important things.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Swartz Suicide Should Prompt Investigation of his Prosecutors

Aaron Swartz was clearly a brilliant, but troubled man.  As a computer coding prodigy, his contributions to the internet as we know it are unquestioned.  Unfortunately, like many men of extreme talent, he had faults to match.  Yes, he had grandiosity, and perhaps a bit of hubris because he knew he was smart. However, that in and of itself did not cause his death.

Swartz, for all of his scientific brilliance, was up against the federal criminal justice juggernaut that he was unable to deal with scientifically, and one that essentially answers the no one. Although prosecutors are essential to the judicial process, this case highlights in sickening detail how prosecutorial overreaching and the threat of prison helped drive a brilliant, sensitive man over the edge.

Most things that I have read deal with how much his death will highlight the issue of promoting the free interchange of ideas on the internet, but pardon me if I don't focus on that.  How does a prosecutor justify threatening someone with over a decade of jail time, when there is not even a complaining witness? The man did what he did without any thought of personal or financial gain, and harmed no one. The case justified probation, and community service, but the feds don't play that way.  They want you in jail, with a registration number, DNA on file,  a lifetime ban on firearms, and a felony record, or I guess it doesn't count on their score sheet..

Sleep well, Mr. or Ms. Prosecutor. Oh, and by the way, thanks for dismissing the charges against Seartz now that he's dead.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Have U.S. Incarceration Rates Peaked?

          Although you wouldn't know it by looking at the rising Bureau of Prisons (BOP) population levels, the rate that Americans incarcerate their fellow citizens appears to be declining at the state level.

          The states' fiscal crisis have definitely put a damper on enthusiasm to build more prisons and lock up more people.  The "soft-on-crime" cudgel used to club prison-reform minded politicians into submission appears to have lost some of its sting.  Members of both parties, including usually reliable tough-on-crime
spokesmen, are starting to speak out against high incarceration rates. Even the head of the U.S. Sentencing Commission has criticized the length of sentences.

         One need only look at the administrative deficiencies of the BOP, especially in the "rehabilitation" department to realize that crime only pays for corrections employees and private prison contractors, and the corrections system on all levels is riddled with corruption that deserves close examination.

Prison System Becoming A Costly Old-People's Home

      The former prisoner, slowed by arthritis, heart problems, and chronic pain, shuffled slowly while on his way to the local shelter's free cafeteria for people like him.  He was frank in assessing his future prospects after being released from a long sentence in federal prison.  "I'm thinking about committing another crime, so they put me back in jail.  At least there, I had food, a place to sleep, and another prisoner assigned to pushing me around in a wheelchair if I couldn't walk.  It's my retirement plan,"  he said smiling, but deadly serious.  It is an situation that does not bode well for already overtaxed BOP or state prison budgets.

      Unfortunately,  his story is far from unique in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).  There are thousands more just like him, gladly enduring the myriad indignities of incarceration for the certainty of having someone take care of him.  According to U.S. Justice Department statistics, the number of prisoners 65 or older is now over 26,000, upf65% from 2007.  There are few federal statistics on what medical care for elderly prisoners cost the BOP, but the figure is growing rapidly.  Even with providing what amounts to carefully-rationed  medical care, the BOP is obligated to respond to emergency medical crisis and refer prisoners to expensive outside clinics if its prison medical facilities, little more than medicine dispensaries, can't deal with the problem.  Failure to do so might result in the prisoner's death or serious injury, from what the courts have termed, "deliberate indifference."  Each year, the BOP is served with numerous well-founded lawsuits accusing them of just that.

     This is not just a problem for the feds, either. Numerous states have noted increased costs for elderly prisoners, and in Connecticut, the prison system estimates it spends almost $5000 per prisoner for medical care, in addition to annual costs exceeding $20,000 per year, with some prisoners incurring tens of thousands of dollars for emergency surgeries and other critical care expenses. These prisoners face uncertain futures upon release because they have no family and no place to go when their sentences expire.  It is a problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

BOP Faulted for Failure to Reduce Prisoner Counts

   The Government Account Office (GAO) has once again criticized the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), for their failure to use current statutory and regulatory authority to reduce the prisoner population, and thereby save the taxpayers money. 

     In its study published in 2012, the GAO noted that the BOP has three principal authorities to legally reduce prisoner counts: 12-month sentence reduction for completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program (RDAP), transfer of prisoners to community correction centers (also known as halfway houses) under the Second-Chance Act which authorizes up to to 12 months of halfway house, and the use of "good time" sentence reduction for good behavior while incarcerated.

     However, as long as Congress continues to approve BOP budget requests without tying them to using these tools at their disposal to reduce prison population, it is unlikely to be a priority for the BOP.  What government agency doesn't want to justify maintaining, or better yet, increasing their current budget? 

     However, the BOP, never known for administrative efficiency in the administration of any of its programs, continues to lag behind in its use of common sense to get people out of prison, back in their community, and home to their families. High prison populations are only popular with prison guard labor unions, thankfully not a large group. More on this in the future.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Illinois Quietly Closes Prisons Despite Guard Protests

      With little publicity, the Illinois State Supreme Court ruled that Governor Quinn can now proceed with the closing of several under-utilized prisons in the State of Illinois, saving millions of dollars.  The closings had originally been set for October 31st, but had been delayed by an Alexander County judge's preliminary injunction blocking the move, but the Supreme Court ordered that the injunction be dissolved..

      On the chopping block is the supermax prison, Tamms, as well as Dwight Correctional Center for Women, and two juvenile justice centers in Joliet and Murphysboro.

      Predictably, the union representing employee at these facilities raised the issue of public and guard safety, stating that overcrowding could put employees at risk  There was no mention of prisoner safety in the statements of the union, that, understandably, is trying to preserve the jobs of its membership.  Left unsaid is the fact that the Illinois prisoner population is dropping quickly now that previously scuttled reforms aimed at reducing that population have also been quietly reinstated. The simple fact is that State of Illinois finances are in a shambles, and the closing of underused or vacant facilities is the responsible thing to do.