by Derek Gilna
After extensive research, Families Against Mandatory Minimum (FAMM), which advocates for sentencing reform, published a report in May 2017 that highlighted numerous suggestions for reducing recidivism rates for federal prisoners.
According to FAMM, “almost one-half (49.3%) of the offenders released in 2005 were rearrested for a new crime or rearrested for a violation of supervision conditions within eight years of their release.” FAMM surveyed almost 2,000 federal prisoners prior to publishing its report.
FAMM argued that any plan to reduce the number of federal prisoners must take into account the fact that half of those released are rearrested. Emphasis must be placed, the report said, on increasing meaningful programming for the approximately 183,000 offenders held in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities to better prepare them for release.
The report suggested five areas in which the BOP could improve, including job training, educational opportunities, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment and/or cognitive behavioral therapy, and placements in community-based facilities – including halfway houses – to ease the transition of ex-offenders into society.
FAMM advocated for the BOP to use improved risk-assessment tools, “to categorize (and periodically reassess and recategorize) prisoners as being at either high, medium, or low risk of reoffending.” It also recommended that federal officials “[r]equire the BOP to provide evidence-based programming to reduce recidivism.” The public would be better served, the report added, if the BOP instituted changes to give “incentives to prisoners to participate in recidivism-reducing programming or engage in other ‘productive activity,’ such as holding a job.”
Further, the BOP should recognize that prisoners would respond positively to earned time credits, including “eligibility for more time in a halfway house or on home confinement at the end of their sentence.” For example, by providing relatively limited incentives on a sliding scale based on assessed risk, such as “five days earned credits for each month of programming completed if the prisoner is medium or high risk, 10 days earned credits for each month of programming completed if the prisoner is low risk.” Prisoners convicted of terrorism, fraud, public corruption, sex crimes, child exploitation or violent offenses would be excluded under FAMM’s proposed plan.
The report also advocated for other incentives for prisoners not eligible for earned time credits, “such as extra minutes for phone calls or extra visits from family and friends, for all prisoners who engage in programming or other productive activity.” Of course, that assumes the BOP can make sufficient program positions available for all federal prisoners eligible and willing to participate.
In addition, the FAMM report contained an analysis of current BOP employment practices, noting that most prisoners have some sort of job but the availability and rigor of those positions vary widely from institution to institution. FAMM was critical of the limited availability of vocational training, varying standards of classroom education offered, lack of computer access for educational programming and almost insurmountable barriers to taking college coursework.
The report concluded by advocating for additional individualized analysis of prisoners’ educational, mental health and substance abuse treatment needs, to ensure they have the tools necessary to successfully reintegrate upon their release, thus resulting in lower recidivism rates.
Sources: “Using Time to Reduce Crime: Federal Prisoner Survey Results Show Ways to Reduce Recidivism,” FAMM (May 31, 2017); www.famm.org
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