Crime victims and the FBI were two of the big winners in the annual battle over spending U. S. Justice Department funds. A Congressional budget deal for the current fiscal year that was finalized by negotiators early yesterday morning provided an estimated $2.26 billion for state and local organizations that help crime victims. Under a law dating from the 1980s, those groups are supposed to receive fines paid in federal cases, but Congress has long put a cap on the total. The total amounts to an increase of about 15.5 percent over the current level of support, which itself was a big increase over recent years, says the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators, which tracks the spending. The future of funding for victims is not certain. Major fines and settlements in white-collar-crime cases have raised the fund's total to $12 billion, but executive and legislative branch leaders have insisted that some of that money go to other government functions, over the objection of victim advocates.
On July 23, 42 law professors wrote a letter to the Attorney General, raising concerns about various policies and practices of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and urging her to select BOP’s next Director from outside the agency in order to facilitate change. A few days later, three of the signatories to the July 23 letter published an op ed in the Washington Post making much the same argument, boldly predicting that with this one decision the Attorney General and the President could “reshape the future of the entire federal prison system.” I wish I were as optimistic as the professors who signed the letter. The fundamental flaw in their position, discussed further below, is that it assumes BOP has more control over how it operates than it actually does. But there are also practical reasons why it would be hard to find the right outsider to lead BOP as long as the job remains a career position.
In November 2002, a team of federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) employees traveled to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan known interchangeably by its nickname, “The Salt Pit,” and its code name, “COBALT,” according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report released last year. The report, which examined the the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, describes in detail a visit in which BOP officials saw detainees shackled to walls and stripped naked. The cells holding detainees were kept in total darkness, and there was no interaction between the correction guards and inmates, who were given buckets to dispose their own waste. The BOP team wasn’t just impressed, according to CIA documents cited in the report, they were “wow’ed” and had “never been in a facility where individuals are so sensory deprived.” It was an inspection and apparent vote of approval that raised questions about whether the BOP exceeded its bounds of authority as a domestic agency.
Inmates in the federal prison system who suffer from mental illness are routinely kept in solitary confinement for extensive periods without proper treatment, according to the first-ever audit of the Bureau of Prison's (BOP) segregation policies. The 250-page-plus report, completed in December, but not made public until now, detailed numerous areas in which the BOP was failing its mentally ill inmates, but did not offer concrete solutions on how to alleviate the use of solitary confinement. “This is a very troubling report,” said Dr. Jeffrey Metzner, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, who has been assessing correctional mental health systems for over 30 years. “It shows the BOP haven't been doing a very good job at establishing a mental health system on their own,” added Metzner, who is currently serving as an expert for the plaintiff in a case which accuses the bureau of not providing mental health treatment in maximum security (ADX) units. The lawsuit alleges that the BOP fails to properly diagnosis and treat mental illness in its high security units.
The federal prison system is growing at an unsustainable rate, according to a new study from the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center, which reports that the federal inmate population has ballooned by almost ten times since 1980. There are about 218,000 inmates in federal prisons, according to the report. More than half of the population consists of drug offenders. The study's authors attribute the length of sentences — particularly for drug offenders — as an important driver of population growth. The report calls for policymakers to study state justice systems that have demonstrated the ability to cut prison spending without jeopardizing public safety.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) rarely seeks early release for prisoners facing imminent death or serious incapacitation, according to a report released today by the advocacy groups Human Rights Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums. In 1984, Congress gave federal courts authority to grant early release — also referred to as “compassionate release” — for “extraordinary and compelling” reasons, but only when a motion to do so has been submitted by the BOP. The BOP has averaged about two dozen such motions each year since 1992, according to the study. The BOP requires prisoners to be within 12 months of death or irrevocably incapacitated in order to be considered for compassionate release; prisoners do not have the right to challenge BOP decisions in court. The report's authors recommend that the BOP bring early release motions to court whenever a prisoner can present “extraordinary and compelling” reasons for release, “regardless of whether bureau officials believe early release is warranted.” Read the study HERE.
Despite the popular assumption that incarceration makes our communities safer, the growing evidence is that the opposite is true. Prisons, jails and juvenile facilities are places of extreme violence that spread this contagion of violence rather than contain it. The new Administration can show leadership by a major reform effort of federal corrections facilities, including the very troubled and increasingly violent Federal Bureau of Prisons, the unconstitutional deportation facilities overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the totally unregulated lockups operated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.. And we must not forget the pledge made by this President to close Guantanamo and other horrible DOD and CIA facilities whose operations are not sufficiently scrutinized by human rights groups. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration of any nation on earth.