The following article was my submission for possible publication in a book that I submitted over a year ago. I include excerpts from some of my published materials and blogs that relate to the topic of recidivism, returning to old behaviors. My writing was not accepted for inclusion in the book but I do want my thoughts and ideas to be read, so I am posting it for the world see. 🙂
Though parts of the former submission may be outdated, the principles and concepts that I present are not, since not a lot has changed, per se. Millions of people remain in prison across the United States of America; especially, those who suffer from mental conditions and addiction problems.
Maybe something I wrote will encourage someone to do something that leads to changes in the status quo of mass incarceration in America.
What We Know
What we know is that America has a severe problem with recidivism that costs victims of recidivist immeasurable amounts of pain and suffering, and American citizens billions of dollars. My story shows the high-cost of recidivism and major problems within our Criminal Justice System and its policies. How do we reduce recidivism rates? Does the answer lie in reentry initiatives, preventative measures, sentencing factors? All the above, perhaps?
In 1988 I recidivated and spent thirty-years in federal prison and am part of the problem. I offer a unique perspective to help change the status quo. My goal is to use my vast experience in corrections to become part of the solution in penance of my debt to society.
First, to establish my qualifications to write on the selected subject, I’ll summarize selected points of my extensive criminal history, which began with my first arrest in 1969 for the burglary of a school, at the age of twelve, and continued until my last arrest on August 18, 1988, for the charges that I will write about later.
My criminal activities as a child lead to at least twenty arrests as a juvenile; all arrests related to my drug and alcohol problem, the true reason behind me costing taxpayers over a million dollars that I will show in association with me spending most of my life confined behind barbwire fences lined with rows of razor wire. For clarity and to offer an excuse for the negative behaviors I displayed for decades of life, when I was eleven-years-young, I began using LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) and other mind-altering substances. My life of substance abuse continued for 26 years, 3 months, 18 days (I stopped using April 5, 1995). From the time of my first childhood arrest, I did not stay out of jail or some type of confinement for more than six months, until 1976 after release from my first adult prison sentence, when I served thirteen months in prison for a burglary to steal guns. That time I almost made it two years without an arrest. On August 28, 1978, I landed in jail for stealing a car and robbing three drug stores at gunpoint.
Two armed robberies and the car theft happened in Dekalb County, Georgia. The other robbery occurred in Paulding County, Dallas, Georgia. Though not charged for assault with a dangerous weapon and discharging a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, during the Paulding County robbery, the pharmacist refused to comply with my demands and I struck him upside the head with a pistol that discharged a round into the wall, crimes of which if committed today and if charged with then, would have kept me caged for life.
I suffered from mental illness back then. I went to trial and a psychiatrist testified that I could not differentiate between right and wrong. The jury didn’t accept the guilty by reason of insanity defense and found me guilty as charged. I did not receive help for my psychiatric issues. The judge sentenced me to twenty-years, serve eight, balance probated and then I went to Dekalb County to face charges. Though I planned to stay out of prison upon release after the first time, I did not, because I returned to using drugs and made terrible decisions. Drug addiction lead to me robbing those drug stores in 1978 and the courts sentencing me to multiple sentences for a total of fifteen-years to serve and five-years of probation. I didn’t complete the original sentences before picking up additional charges for new crimes committed while in prison.
In 1981 I assaulted two correctional officers while they were trying to get another prisoner under control, the prisoner of whom went into the gymnasium bathroom to pick up drugs stashed for him to pick up. He owed me two ounces of marijuana. For that incident, the disciplinary committee sentenced me to two-consecutive, fourteen-day sentences in solitary confinement. The State of Georgia charged me with two counts of mutiny in a penal institution. I laughed when the person serving the warrants told me of the charges.
“Mutiny, I wasn’t on a battleship,” I said.
I didn’t laugh when sentenced to two more years for committing the crimes.
After I got out of the hole for those charges, I got into more trouble and ended up back in the hole and then when I went to trial, and the jury found me guilty of the charges I’ll discuss next, the court sentenced me to four consecutive years. The two-year sentence for the mutiny charges ran concurrent with the four, consecutive to the original sentences.
For the Dekalb County crimes, I accepted a 15-year plea agreement after a psychiatric examination proved more harmful than helpful. At twenty-one-years old, those fifteen years seemed like life imprisonment when I calculated being thirty-six before getting out. My plan was to leave when possible. I did. Three years into the sentence, I escaped from Coastal Correctional Institution in Garden City, Georgia.
In June of 1981, several prisoners planned to escape Saturday night. An associate asked if I wanted to escape with them? I declined.
They didn’t leave on Saturday, and then on Sunday when I didn’t get a planned visit, I became depressed and changed my mind about leaving. On Sunday night, myself and ten others escaped by climbing two chain link fences. The first fence, five feet high, the other twelve with an inward facing arm, three feet long and strung with barbwire. The arm of the extension set at a forty-five-degree angle, facing the institution. To get to the fences, a prisoner nicknamed Tiny lured a guard into a trap. The guard stood above six feet tall, Tiny near five, so it is logical to assume the guard didn’t feel threatened by him and violated the security protocol by opening the Control Room door to hand Tiny an electric razor. Tiny grabbed and held him until reinforcements arrived who were hid in a blind stairway. I waited in another corridor for the takeover and the opening of the doors. Moment later, the outside doors opened.
I ran five-to-six hundred yards across a field to the fences. Before I made it to the first fence, a correctional officer driving a security vehicle had stopped and was firing a shotgun at the other escapees who had cleared the tallest fence. I barely slowed until I landed in the sand trap between the two fences. I climbed the second one, the tallest. When I reached the three-foot extension, I grabbed hold of its arm and pulled my body up to the barbwire strands, and then used my hands to swing from strand to strand until I reached the top row. I threw my right arm over the top strand. A barb pierced my bicep. I jumped after clearing the wire.
The guard fired again. A pellet struck Tiny in his foot and caused him to stumble before he fell to the ground. The gun bucked from the blast. I ran a few feet before I hit the ground awaiting the buck of the gun from the next blast, which hit another prisoner in his shoulder. He staggered from the impact but continued running to the woods. Tiny jumped up and ran with me into the woods before the guard could fire again. The guard may have had to reload, but whatever the case may be, I got away without taking any lead with me into the Woodline.
I separated from the rest of the escapees. Running through the woods, I tripped over vines and fell into a gulley in the dark forest, but I still get away before the hound dogs arrived. A helicopter flew above the forest shining a light through the treetops. To avoid detection, I stayed in the shadow of the trees and once had to pull bushes over myself to avoid detection as the helicopter passed over. Helicopters did not have heat sensors in those days.
I made it out of the woods a few hours later, where I stole a car from the parking lot of an aircraft manufacturer. I would have stolen an airplane if I had known how to fly one. Soon thereafter, I saw a railroad crossing with two guards posted waving for me to stop. I didn’t. I almost ran over them instead. A mile down the road, I did the same thing. A chase car got behind me when I made it to the next road. A high-speed chase followed but not for long. The car I stole only ran a little over a hundred miles per hour, wide-open. Police cruisers ran a hundred and forty. The pursuing police officers boxed me in with their cars and captured me. Before I got out of the car with my hands in the air, a prison van pulled alongside one of the police cruisers. The cops put me in the prison van and ended my wild escapades.
Those events lead me to the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia, where the state kept the worst-of-the-worst, a prison plagued with violence. Because of all the violence and state officials refusing to follow a federal court order to improve living conditions, stop the racism, and brutality, the federal government implemented processes to begin a takeover. Part of that process included appointing a federal monitor to oversee the lawsuit and placing a federal warden over the institution.
Someone cut the tires on the warden’s vehicle.
I assume that the family clans did not like that the Feds sent in a foreigner to disrupt their running of the prison, and wanted to let him know that he wasn’t wanted in those parts of the woods. He did not leave.
Another process formed was the creation of the Staff Inmate Communication Committee (SICC). White and Black prisoners in each living unit elected a white and black representative to help reduce prison violence. My peers chose me to represent their interest, thus I became a spokesperson and received copies of all legal documents filed in the litigation. I fought and succeeded at helping to change the prison, as I am fighting now to change the system.
In 1982 the federal government reported that GSP was the most violent prison in the United States. I argued the issue with a federal monitor because New Mexico prisoners had rioted and killed more people than prisoners had killed in Reidsville.
The federal monitor replied, “The New Mexico incident was during a time of rioting. During the normal run of the prison, y’all have had six-murders, fifty inmate-to-inmate attacks, and thirty-five inmate-to-staff attacks, with fewer prisoners than New Mexico. That is what makes this prison the most violent in the United States.”
Events almost kept me in prison the rest of my life, because another prisoner wanted a transfer to another prison, he and others lied and said I killed a person, one of the six murders in 1982. I was innocent of the actual murder, but that incident made me realize I needed to change my life, and that’s when I began. Several years later, I made parole.
On August 1, 1985, I completed my commitment to a halfway house in Atlanta, Georgia and made parole. I did not plan to reoffend. I wanted to be a successful law-abiding citizen and did well until, once again, I returned to using drugs and that always lead me back to prison.
Now to my last arrest and conviction. Tennessee state police arrested me August 18, 1988, in Campbell County, Tennessee, for possession of explosives (firecrackers and a hand grenade that was a dud), possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of a firearm and ammunition, and possession of stolen credit cards. At first, I was under an alias. No other charges filed, other than me using a stolen credit card to rent and not return the car I was driving when arrested. The actual charge was theft by taken motor vehicle.
I agreed to extradition to face the Theft by Taken Motor Vehicle charge in Gwinnett County, Lawrenceville, Georgia. A few days after my arrival in Georgia, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Georgia Bureau of Investigation called me out for questioning on the armed bank robbery of the Bank of Dawson County, Dawsonville, Georgia. I refused to cooperate and laughed when the investigating agents tried the Good Guy/Bad Gay routine to elicit a confession.
A Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent jumped from his seat, knocking it over, and then said, “You think this is funny. They’re trying to put armed robbery charges on you and I’m going to make sure you get more.”
I laughed again. I knew my life was over and figured I’d die in prison anyway, so it didn’t matter anymore. I screwed up really bad this time, I thought. Within thirty-six hours, I had four counts of armed robbery, two counts of false imprisonment, and two weapon charges to go with the theft by taking motor vehicle charge. That was before the FBI filed the federal charges. I knew my life was over and contemplated suicide to shorten the process. I’m glad I changed my mind and have lived to see this day as I type.
Back to the last crimes and convictions: On November 10, 1988, a federal jury found me guilty after a four-day trial for the following crimes committed June 21, 1988:
1) armed bank robbery (Title 18 of the United States Code (U.S.C.), §§ 2113(a)(d)); 2) abduction of a person to facilitate commission of an offense (18 U.S.C., § 2113(e)); 3) conspiracy to commit bank robbery (18 U.S.C., § 371) (the charge that lead to convictions on all other counts), and 4) use of a weapon during commission of a crime of violence (18 U.S.C., § 924(c)).
The court delayed sentencing due to a pending case before the United States Supreme Court. On February 24, 1989, a federal judge sentenced me to 420-months (300-months on Count 1, 360-months on Count 2, sixty-months on Count 3, all concurrent (running together), and sixty-consecutive months on Count 4). I did not walk out the prison doors without handcuffs on my wrists, a belly-chain around my waist, and shackles on my legs, until August 28, 2018, before I left the institution en route to Dismas Charities in Atlanta, Georgia. Dismas Charities is a privately-owned halfway house/residential reentry center (RRC).
RECIDIVISM IN AMERICA: WHAT WE CAN DO
Today I write as a professional and have spent hundreds of dollars to make a difference through my writing resources and otherwise, in penance for the harms I caused society with my criminal behavior and lifestyle.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics released a new study (“2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-Year Follow-up Period (2005-2014),” NCJ250975, May 2018), a follow-up to the 5-year study relied upon for comparison by the ex-director (“Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010,” NCJ244205, April 2014).
The May 2018 study revealed an Eighty-three percent (83%) recidivism rate during the 9-year follow-up period, and that shows the seriousness of recidivism in America and the need for a magic elixir that does not exist. However, even if there isn’t a magic elixir, we can reduce recidivism by ending financial incentives for politicians who make laws and policies that fuel mass incarceration. Positive change will be slow until lawmakers stop state and federal funding for private prisons. In the conclusion I will offer suggestions to reduce recidivism and help to create more productive members of society in the process.
The 2017 annual cost of incarceration for federal prisoners was $36,299.25 ($99.45 per day). Federal Register, Vol. 78, No. 52 (03/18/13), and Vol. 83, No. 83 (04/30/18).
TREAT THOSE WITH ADDICTION PROBLEMS & DUAL DISORDERS
In December of 2002, USA TODAY published an article “Study: treat addicts’ mental illness,” by Marilyn Elias, 12/02/02, USA TODAY newspaper. According to Charles Curie of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about one third of drug and alcohol abusers have an underlying mental disorder. In a Pennsylvania state prison study around the same time, researchers determined that 85% of Pennsylvania prisoners had addiction problems, with half of them (42.5%) having an underlying mental disorder. Mr. Curie stated in the same article, “That’s typical of prison systems nationally. And we know if these inmates recover from the disorders, they’re unlikely to repeat crimes.” Think about that statement: “inmates …, unlikely to repeat crimes.”
Those were high numbers to ignore for those wanting to reduce recidivism, considering that reducing it would decrease state and federal deficits. Of what should be of greater significance to policy makers is helping other human beings to become productive members of society. With it being 2019, sixteen years passed since the release of that study. To date, the Federal Bureau of Prisons only has one facility that treats those with dual disorders (Lexington, Kentucky), but some states have implemented more of such programs and seen positive results.
I am one of the fortunate ones from the federal system who received treatment for both disorders while in prison, long before the authors released the study. My success verifies the study findings. I was a model prisoner for several years before my release. I behaved in a constructive manner and helped others learn to live as law abiding citizens by practicing Twelve Step principles. Now I am a productive member of society because I am applying what I learned in prison.
Studies on recidivism shown in 1997, that 67.5 percent of prisoners released three years earlier were re-arrested, amounting in a five percent increase from those released in 1983. The re-arrest rate for drug offenders rose from 50.4 percent in 1993 to 66.7 percent in 1994. Before the 2018 study, which is a follow up to the 2005-2010 study, showed those numbers increased to 76.9 percent, and then to the staggering eighty-three percent after adding four years to the study period, all of which shows a growing problem within the Criminal Justice System.
In April 2014, the United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Statistics, released study NCJ244205 “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010,” by Matthew R. Durose, Alexia D. Cooper, Ph. D, and Howard N. Snyder, PhD, BJS Statisticians. The study expanded to include statistics for a five-year period, compared to the typical three-year studies. The five-year study showed 67.8 percent of prisoners released had been arrested for a “new crime” within three years of release, and 76.6 percent within five years.
Here’s the numbers for relevant offender categories:
1) property offenders 82.1% (burglary (81.8%), larceny/motor vehicle theft (84.1%), fraud/forgery (77.0%), other (83.6%));
2) drug offenders 76.9% (possession (78.3%), trafficking (75.4%), other (78.1%)).
3) public order offenders 73.6% (weapons (79.5%), driving under the influence (59.9%), other (77.9%)).
Ironically, violent offenders came up last: 71.3% for re-offenders (homicide (51.2%); murder (47.9%); non-negligent manslaughter (55.7%); negligent manslaughter (53.0%)’ rape/sexual assault (60.1%); robbery (77.0%); assault (77.1%), and other (70.4%)).
FEDERAL RECIDIVISM STUDY: In the recidivism study by the United States Sentencing Commission, “The Commission studied offenders who was either released from federal prison after serving a sentence of imprisonment or placed on a term of probation in 2005.”
STUDY NUMBERS: Offense Types and recidivism rates were as follows: Drug Trafficking (41.7%), Fraud (13.6%), Firearms (12.8%), Robbery (4.3%), Larceny (3.9%), Immigration (3.5%), and ALL Other (20.3%).
DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS OF RECIDIVISM STUDY: The first numbers are those in the study, whereas the second number represents offenders sentenced in 2014, after the eight-year study period ended: 81.7% – 81.2% were Male offenders. White offenders led at 43.7% – 38.1%, followed by Blacks at 33.9% – 32.7%, Hispanics at 17.8% – 23.4%, and other races at 4.6% – 5.8%.
EDUCATE TO REDUCE RECIDIVISM: Post-Secondary Education Reduces Recidivism! In the study, 34.3% did not graduate high school, compared to 36.6% who did; 21.4% had some college, and only 7.5% were college graduates.
OTHER RESULTS OF RECIDIVISM STUDIES: 49.3 percent of those released were rearrested for a new crime or rearrested for a violation of supervised release (e.g., failing to pass a urine analysis, failure to report to the supervised release officer; leaving without permission from a halfway house, perimeter of home confinement area or the state; violating state or federal laws, etc.). “Recidivism Among Federal Offenders: A Comprehensive Overview,” United States Sentencing Commission, March 2016.
The 2014 and 2018 studies show recidivism decreases as age increases.
FUNDING NEW RECIDIVISM REDUCTION PROGRAMS
Releasing qualifying elderly offenders who complete the recidivism reduction programs outlined at the end of this section will save billions of dollars to use for funding other programs with minimal risk to society. Reducing this category saves a lot because incarcerating the elderly costs the most.
This section targets a large segment of inmate populations and thus saves hundreds of billions, even with only marginal success. The cost savings will supply more resources for managing other aspects of the criminal justice system.
Let us assume Mr. Curie is correct (“[W]e know if these inmates recover from the disorders, they’re unlikely to repeat crimes”). Based upon that premise, if ten percent of released inmates received treatment for dual disorders, while inside and did not recidivate by committing more crimes, then each ex-offender saves the criminal justice system a minimum of $25,000 per years, not including associated savings gathered from not spending money to arrest and re-prosecute the offender.
The Department of Justice could apply those savings to revamping correctional systems with more psychiatrists, psychologists, and addiction specialists needed to reduce recidivism rates that fuels Mass Incarceration in America.
Using 2,000,000 as a base figure, and $25,000 as the cost of incarceration to accommodate the lower cost of housing healthier prisoners in state-and privately-owned prisons, if 85% of the 2,000,000 prisoners have an addiction problem, that’s 1.7 million prisoners. If 42.5% of that 1.7 million have an underlying mental disorder, that’s 722,500 prisoners with dual disorders. If twenty percent of that 722,500 asked for and received treatment, that would be 144,500 people treated and “unlikely to repeat crimes.”
If Mr. Curie is correct, the following numbers I use would be higher and save more taxpayer dollars. Again, using a modest $25,000.00 as the annual cost of incarceration, if ONLY ten percent (72,500) of the 722,500 of prisoners with dual disorders were treated, released, and never committed other crimes; taxpayers would save $1,806,250,000 each year. That doesn’t include money saved from not having to pay law enforcement and the prosecution for associated costs. If ten percent (14,450) of the twenty percent (144,500) suffering from dual disorders, completed treatment and stayed out of prison, that would be $361,250,000 saved annually. If that same twenty percent (144,500) stayed clean after release, that would be $3,612,250,000 saved. More importantly, thousands of citizens would not fall victim to those released from prison in worse shape than when they arrived; another recidivist or death statistic in the making. Nor do those figures factor in the decreased need of hiring more law enforcement personnel; not having to pay for more buildings and equipment and resources, including not having to build more prisons to warehouse the prisoners.
To reduce recidivism and help protect American citizens, as well as to help the returning citizen to successfully reintegrate, increase the availability of rehabilitative programs. The programs need to 1) require that participants have at least a twelve-month clear conduct record; 2) require attendance for counseling sessions for any noted mental disorder and or addiction problems; 3) require participants to attend all scheduled educational or trade-related courses.
As part of the reconstructive process, prison official must be required to create more evidence-based programs for reducing recidivism, as the recently passed First Step Act requires for federal officials. Part of the process should include regularly-scheduled, independent audits performed on a random basis by an external agency and include interviewing twenty-percent of inmate participants, with the goal of assuring compliance. If prison officials do not comply, sanctions should be issued against prison officials (e.g., monetary sanctions, demotions, and termination for repeated citations for failure to comply).
Incorporating the above processes will change lives and give many men and women trapped behind the walls, bars and fences of the thousands of prisons across the United States, an opportunity to become assets to society rather than tax liabilities. Yes, some will fail. Thousands of other will succeed at becoming better men and women to help make America great again.
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