Reprinted from Reader Supported News
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced recently that it would soon implement more "family friendly" policies in an effort to encourage the easy reintegration of prisoners into their communities. I nearly choked when I read the news. And then I checked to make sure I wasn't reading The Onion.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said in a speech in Houston that the BOP had created a five-point program, announced earlier by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, which would directly aid the more than 40,000 federal prisoners who are released annually.
These programs include one that would expand video visits to all federal prison facilities. Great idea, right? Wrong. These video teleconferences are contracted out to private providers and, in many facilities, are replacing in-person visits entirely. Furthermore, the video visits are prohibitively expensive. Prison Legal News reported last year that the typical 30-minute call costs $10, an expensive proposition when so many prisoners are destitute to begin with and monthly salaries for federal prisoners average between $1 and $5. Even worse, video visits do not imply that a family member can just log onto Skype and have a conversation. In many cases, they must travel to a BOP-approved private video center and pay for the call on their end, too.
A second tenet of the program is to provide prisoners with an "individualized reentry plan" based on that person's needs and specific risks to the community. Another great idea. But it's unfunded. Congress hasn't appropriated any money to do any such thing. Indeed, there's no money in the BOP budget for anything related to rehabilitation. There are no educational opportunities, no training, no vocational classes. Nothing. So "individualized reentry program" notwithstanding, this just isn't going to happen.
Third, prisoners would be provided with "education, job-related training, or other programs, such as mental health or substance abuse." Again, great idea. But there's no budget for this, nor has there been for many years. And in an election year, no member of Congress is going to campaign on a platform of giving more money to federal prisoners.
Fourth, the program would "assess and improve the care that halfway houses provide about 80 percent of newly-released inmates." When I was released from prison after serving 23 months for blowing the whistle on the CIA's torture program, I was assigned to a halfway house in Washington, DC. Located in the worst neighborhood in the worst part of Washington, far from all public transportation, "Hope Village" was known as both "Hopeless Village" and "Abandon All Hope Village." The only employment assistance that any of the more than 140 residents got there was a bulletin board that had one job advertisement for a dishwasher position at Fuddruckers. I'm serious. When it came to immediate post-release employment, we were on our own.
The problem with halfway houses is not necessarily funding. They are private, for-profit entities. They want to send the prisoner home as quickly as possible because they can "rent" the bed to as many as six or seven people at the same time. Here's how it works: I got out of prison and was assigned to the halfway house. I signed a contract saying that I would pay the halfway house 25 percent of my gross pay for the remainder of my halfway house/home confinement period, in my case three months. So I was sent home immediately. I never spent a single night there. But there were four other men assigned to the same bed. They also were sent home, and we all paid 25 percent of our gross pay. The halfway house made good money. It was supposed to. It's a private company. But "education," "programming," and "rehabilitation" were not a part of the deal.
Finally, the Justice Department established a toll-free hotline that newly-released prisoners can call for information on government programs and services, and they rewrote the manual that all prisoners are given upon release. This last point is likely the only one that will actually help anybody. And it cost almost nothing.
Attorney General Lynch probably means well. She probably really does want to help people transition from prison back into society. But the entire Bureau of Prisons, the entire U.S. system of mass incarceration, is broken and must be scrapped and rebuilt. Dancing around the edges of the problem isn't going to help anybody. And announcing a new policy with only six months left in office doesn't help either.
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