Monday, January 16, 2017

Obama Should be Celebrated for Criminal Justice Progress He Achieved

On Martin Luther King Day, Let Us Remember Obama's Accomplishments


            As the United States prepares to inaugurate a new President, it is time to look back at the last eight years and consider what they have meant to all federal prisoners.  Although we have not been shy in this space to express our disappointment in the President on the subject of broad sentence relief, we must not lose sight of his accomplishments that laid the groundwork for more progress in that area.

            First, although Obama will be remembered as the first African-American President, you would be hard-pressed to point to any one instance where he favored one segment of the population over another on the basis of race. He was elected by the people, and whether you supported him or not, that is a fact.

            Second, when you eliminate the media "noise" surrounding him, whatever your politics, you must applaud his basic decency as a husband, a father, and as a man. Whether you agree with his politics or not, his personal life has been completely free of scandal or innuendo, and he has been an excellent role model to all Americans whatever their race  and not just because of his unique background.

            Thirdly, Obama put all prisoners "on the map" of responsible public discussion. He was the first President in memory to visit a federal prison, and the optics of that visit will be helpful for years to come.  The BOP is the most publicity-adverse agency in the federal government, and its archaic management style only can survive in the absence of media attention to its practices. Obama blew that up, and there is no going back.

            Fourthly, one can not overstate the impact that over 1000 commutations and pardons had on public consciousness of the plight of prisoners, and every announcement of more executive mercy was more positive publicity for the cause of even more sentence relief. 

            Finally, it may be hard to understand when you are enduring the many daily  indignities of incarceration, but the general public IS aware of your situation, and is open to change, and is tired of footing the bill for excessive sentences.  People who voted for both Clinton and Trump think that the federal government does a poor job of managing ALL of its agencies, including the DOJ and the BOP. When the only people opposing sentence relief are the labor unions for assistant U.S. Attorneys, and prison guards, we see an opportunity for a serious disruption of the old way of doing business in the American "Justice" system."


Monday, January 2, 2017

Sentencing Reform's Success in 2017 May Depend Upon Faith-Based Groups

Faith-Based Coalitions Prepare to Weigh in on Sentence Reform in New Year


            After the past year, when the old political order was swept aside, traditional media discredited, and government institutions under renewed scrutiny by a skeptical electorate, we are not surprised that many organizations who failed to predict all of these upheavals are once again missing the newest trend in 2017 sentence relief hiding in plain sight. Many faith-based religious organizations, fresh from providing difference-making grass-roots support to the winning presidential candidate,  are preparing to take the lead in pressuring Congress to take action to reduce federal incarceration and recidivism.

            This process has already begun on the state level, as state officials come to realize that for-profit prisons and reentry facilities like halfway houses are just aren't getting the job done. Expect the new administration to strongly consider measures that get religious communities closely involved in the criminal justice system.

            The groundwork has already been set. The new administration has big plans for reducing the footprint of the federal agencies, none of which they are going to like. Put into an office by voters tired of the old, wasteful way of doing the people's business, they owe absolutely nothing to the federal bureaucracies,  and there are no more opaque or inefficient agencies than the BOP and the DOJ.

            .The harsh reality is that the previous administration, lauded by the media for its many  eloquent words supporting the concept of sentence relief, failed to take advantage of the fact that a majority of Congressmen and senators supported sentence relief. Yet, no sentence relief bills were even called for a vote.  Those votes are still there, and ready for executive leadership on measures that have broad bipartisan support, and support of an increasing number of religious organizations.
           In 2017, there will be an opportunity for faith-based groups of all denominations to
provide the leadership, initiative, and moral force to do their part to make sentence reform a reality, and thereafter accept the responsibility to  do whatever is necessary to make it successful.