by Wayne T. Dowdy
Thousands of American prisoners are released each year. Statistically, almost half of them will return to prison within eight years of release, costing American taxpayers billions of dollars each year.
The 2014 average cost of incarceration for federal offenders was over $30,000.
On July 10, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (B.O.P.) population was 195,383. This is a breakdown of confinement/housing categories:
- Bureau of Prison Managed Facilities: 158,883
- Private Managed Facilities: 22,670
- Community-Based Facilities (halfway houses, home confinement, long-term boarders, juveniles, and jails): 13,830
A modest estimated cost of incarcerating 195,383 federal prisoners is $5,861,490,000 ($30,000 x 195,383 = $5,861,490,000).
During an eight-year follow-up period, 49.3% of federal offenders released in 2005 were rearrested for a new crime or for a violation of supervised release (similar to parole). RECIDIVISM AMONG FEDERAL OFFENDERS: A COMPREHENSIVE OVERVIEW, 2016, United States Sentencing Commission.
Paying the high cost of recidivism costs more than paying for programs to reduce the likelihood of ex-offenders returning to prison with new sentences. Recidivism will decrease if legislatures and politicians focus more on putting money into programs to reduce recidivism and crime, rather than focusing on extensive measures of punishment for offenders, driven, in part, by suggestions from private prison industry officials.
PRESIDENTIAL INITIATIVE FOR CHANGE: The Winds of Change Hit Washington, DC. Read on!
REENTRY INITIATIVES: Thanks to reentry initiatives introduced by President Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and former Attorney General Eric Holder, released offenders now have a better chance at becoming productive members of society; taxpayers, instead of tax liabilities.
Factors that may determine the success of reentry programs are funding (from Congress and State Legislatures), donations and participation in reentry-based programs by concerned citizens and organizations, commitments from companies to employee ex-offenders, and lower recidivism rates.
IMPORTANT NEWS FLASH: “President Obama Establishes Federal Interagency Reentry Council. An estimated 70 million or more Americans have some kind of criminal record. Each year, more than 60,000 individuals are released from Federal and State prisons, and millions more are released each year from local jails.
“Promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals who have paid their debt to society makes communities safer by reducing recidivism and victimization; assists those who return from prison, jail, or juvenile justice facilities [to] become productive citizens; and saves taxpayers dollars by lowering the direct and collateral cost of incarceration.
“Providing incarcerated individuals with job and life skills, education programming, and mental health and addiction treatment increases the likelihood that they will be successful when released. ….
“On April 11, 2016, the White House hosted 19 companies to launch the Fair Chance Business Pledge, including American Airlines, Busboys and Poets, The Coca-Cola Company, Facebook, Georgia-Pacific, Google, Greyston Bakery, The Hershey Company, The John Hopkins Hospital and Health System, Koch Industries, Libra Group, PepsiCo, Prudential, Starbucks, Uber, Under Armour/Plank Industries, Unilever and Xerox.
“In the two weeks since these initial companies took the pledge, an additional 93 companies and organizations have joined the pledge, including Microsoft, Best Buy, Lyft, Kellogg Company, Staples, TrueBlue, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Catholic Charities USA, NAACP, Manufacturing Alliance of Philadelphia, American Civil Liberties Union, the American Sustainable Business Council and dozens of small and medium-sized companies from across the country. ….
Companies and organizations interested in joining the pledge can continue to do so by visiting http://www.whitehouse.gov/fairchancepledge.
[GOOD NEWS FOR FEDERAL PRISONERS]
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its ‘Roadmap to Reentry,’ outlining five evidence-based principles of reform to be implemented by the Bureau of Prisons to ensure DOJ’s commitment to reentry is incorporated throughout incarceration, from intake to release.” Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, April 29, 2016, FACT SHEET: DURING NATIONAL REENTRY WEEK, REDUCING BARRIERS TO REENTRY AND EMPLOYMENT FOR FORMERLY INCARCERATED INDIVIDUALS (internal quotation marks altered).
The last initiatives mentioned in the above quote will make a substantial difference in the reduction of recidivism rates if a government watchdog agency closely monitors compliance and Congress provides measures to sanction B.O.P. officials for non-compliance. Programs are often implemented on paper but not practiced.
EXAMPLES OF PAPER LIP SERVICE: After the B.O.P. came under scrutiny for not complying with recommendations by the Office of Inspector General (O.I.G.), the B.O.P. Director testified before Congress and boasted about one of their new program statements for Compassionate Release (see below: NO COMPASSION FOR THE SICK AND ELDERLY).
A prime example of documentation created with a good idea and a sound theory, comes from the following situation: In a December 9, 2013, Memorandum for All Bureau Inmates, Mr. Charles Samuels, Jr., former B.O.P. Director, advised all inmates of his initiative to provide inmates with “[o]pportunities to prepare for a successful return to the community.”
From personal observations, minimal changes occurred as a result of any initiative entrusted to the B.O.P. to reduce their prison population. The O.I.G. issued reports against the B.O.P. for not utilizing the tools Congress gave them to reduce the prison population, and thus reduce the absurd amount of funding consumed by an over-crowded prison system.
In the Sentence Reform Act of 1984, Congress gave B.O.P. officials the authority to allow inmates to earn off of their sentences, fifty-four days per year. The B.O.P. elected to interpret it so that inmates only earned forty-seven days per year.
Congress approved the Second-Chance Act in 2007-08 and provided funding for reentry programs, and gave B.O.P. officials authority to send inmates to Reentry Release Centers (halfway house), for up to one year. Only under exceptional circumstances are inmates approved to receive more than six-months in a halfway house.
NO COMPASSION FOR THE SICK AND ELDERLY: In that same memorandum, Mr. Samuels wrote, “First, we expanded our policy on compassionate release, a sentence reduction mechanism authorized by Title 18, United States Code, Section 3582. Most significantly, we added some non-medical circumstances that could be the basis for requests and we broadened the medical criteria somewhat. The details are explained in the new Compassionate Release Program Statement 5050.49 that is available through the law library.”
Though Mr. Samuels may have been personally committed and serious about the initiate, nothing changed. Within two years, the O.I.G. issued a scathing report about the B.O.P. failing to comply with recommendations designed to reduce the prison population and lower the B.O.P.’s overhead that consumed almost twenty-five percent of the DOJ’s 2015 budget.
An article appeared in the USA TODAY newspaper about the failed Compassionate Release program–most prisoners died waiting for bureaucratic action needed for the approval of a compassionate release. In 2014 only two prisoners were released under the Compassionate Release program statement.
In his defense, Mr. Samuels faced the difficult task of changing the mentality of a system committed to protecting society by keeping prisoners incarcerated. For a compassionate release request to get to him, it first had to clear the hurdles of wardens and regional directors. Change comes slowly.
REENTRY PROGRAM CHALLENGES: Communicating the availability of reentry programs is one challenge; especially, when the news must sometimes pass through the hands of those with a vested interest in large prison populations and high recidivism rates.
Prisoners are a commodity: Read “The Truth About Incarceration, Part II” on straightfromthepen.wordpress.com or waynedowdy.weebly.com for more on the subject.
For reentry initiatives to achieve optimal success, it will take funding for the proven programs to reduce recidivism rates in America (mental health care, substance abuse counseling/treatment, educational and employment opportunities, temporary housing assistance, etc.), along with the dedication and commitment of inmates and prison staff to make it work.
Some staff and many inmates support and welcome reentry initiatives.
At the Federal Correctional Institution in Edgefield, South Carolina, reentry programs are conducted by a dedicated counselor, determined to make a difference. He makes a reentry and twelve-step program available to inmates, but cannot find other staff to fill in for him when his services are required elsewhere.
At a June 2016, Graduation Ceremony for the Recid-Awareness Reentry Program–a program created by one of the inmate mentors–appreciative graduates presented the counselor and two primary mentors with awards. Several participants expressed their appreciation to executive staff who supported the program.
FAIRSHAKE REENTRY RESOURCE CENTER: One valuable Reentry Service that is doing its part to promote change by assisting ex-offenders, is the FairShake, Reentry Resource Center. Ms. Sue Kastensen, Founder and Director, created FairShake.net (www.fairshake.net), from her personal resources and commitment to make a difference. She deserves an award!
FairShake. net needs donations to continue to provide a place where people may go to find important information and links to organizations to facilitate the successful reentry of the formerly incarcerated.
Many of those released are like aliens entering a distant world, after having spent decades of their lives confined in cages: Those men and women need all available help to successfully reintegrate into society.
FairShake offers resource information for all to use for successful reentry.
The FairShake Reentry Packet contains useful information to improve the quality of life. Whether just beginning or near completion of his or her sentence, it is a publication worth reading for anyone interested in improving their mind, body and spirit.
[This Section Updated March 19, 2019, to Reflect Changes in Prison Policies & Reentry Packet Availability]
Family and friends of the incarcerated may go to http://www.fairshake.net to download and print a free copy of the Reentry Packet to mail into a prison or jail for a loved one or friend. [Check prison or detention center mailroom policies before printing to mail.]
[I regret writing that the following is no longer possible due to a lack of donations to cover the $8.00 per-packet-cost, and because of new regulations in many prison mailrooms that prohibit certain types of paper due to the influx of K-2 (Spice) and Suboxone.]
The electronic Fairshake Newsletter is still available.
Those incarcerated may write or email to request a free copy–include your name, Id. No. and address. Send request to this address:
P.O. Box 63
Westby, WI 54667
If you have Corrlinks, email email@example.com.
UNIQUE WEBSITE: Their unique website offers valuable tools to assist members in their transition from the insane world of incarceration into the free society.
The website contains free web pages for members (membership is free to all formerly incarcerated individuals). The website contains five categories of important data:
- Reentry Resources (State and Local Reentry Guides);
- Employment Support;
- Building Computer Skills;
- Educate Yourself; and
- Finding Specific Pages.
The Reentry Packet illustrates how to navigate their system. Below a photo, under “Fair Shake Reentry Tool Kit,” is a list of options, including Resource Directory, Reentry Packet, Ownership Manual, Building Computer Skills, Preparing for Work, and Become a Member.
Visit http://www.fairshake.net to become part of the solution for reducing recidivism and changing lives: Save lives and taxpayer dollars!
For a personal perspective on the effect of societal change on an individual, after having spent years in prison before release, and the hidden cost of crime and incarceration, read “The Internet” and “No Sympathy” by Wayne T. Dowdy, online at straightfromthepen.wordpress.com.
“No Sympathy” is available as part of the thought-provoking essays in ESSAYS & MORE STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN ($8.95 USD, plus S & H) from Amazon.com or your favorite bookstore and eBook distributor.