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The Devil Is Always In The Details @ The BOP.
Between January 13,2022 and January 27, 2022 the Bureau of Prisons released 4,303 prisoners according to its weekly population report. All that glitters is not gold, especially when it comes to the proverbial "fox guarding the henhouse" pertaining to the BOP releasing prisoners. They have a clear track record of being averse to releasing prisoners during the most dire of consequences. This particular group was released pursuant to the First Step Act of 2018 which provided retroactive time credits for participation in Evidence Based Recidivism Reduction programs or Productive Activities.
One of these prisoners was my friend Ciro Sama. Mr. Sama was notified on January 18, 2022 that he had earned credits equal to the remainder of his prison time. He was informed by the unit-team that he would be released the very next day. The unit was in a virtual uproar. Mr. Sama is well liked. He approached me grinning like a cat, "Barnes I'm going home tomorrow!" I hugged him, while he was shaking with anxiety. I've been with Mr. Sama for the past 19 months. We're in the Challenge program.
Challenge, is a residential Modified Therapeutic Community predicated on cognitive therapy and focusing on changing criminal thinking through intensive programming. Challenge is also one of the 70 EBRR,(Evidence Based Reduction Recidivism) programs that the Bureau of Prisons offer. This is a 500 hour program. Prisoners who "qualify" for credits are able to earn 10 days per month, with an extra 5 days if they are at a minimum or low risk of recidivating for two consecutive assessments. Mr. Sama is sixty-six years old and has a very low-risk of recidivating, underscoring one of the most well established facts in criminology. People "age out" of crime. Mr. Sama has been cycling in and out of prison for the past thirty-three years. He epitomizes the term "recidivist".
Mr. Deonte Ward, is on the opposite side of the spectrum. Mr. Ward is twenty-five years old and is 64% more likely to be rearrested within a five year period. PATTERN (Prisoner Assisted Tool Targeting Estimated Risk Needs), or the "Algorithm" ranks Mr. Ward as having a "high risk" of recidivating.
Mr. Ward approached me with a look of frustration, "Mr. Barnes my score is too high no matter how many programs I take. I can't lower it to cash in on all the credits I've earned from programming." Mr. Ward has a release date of April 14, 2022. He will be returning back to society labeled as having a "high risk" of recidivating. When I asked him about this he said, "I feel like I have a huge "X" on my back." Deonte Ward is African American and is being released to the same community where he committed his crime.
Problem numero uno, PATTERN does not allow prisoners to move from higher to lower risk categories over the course of incarceration. This completely contravenes the legislative intent vested in 18 U.S.C 3632 (a) which requires that "all prisoners at each risk level have a meaningful opportunity to reduce their classification during the period of incarceration".
Mr. Ward has a squeaky clean institutional record while completing dozens of EBRR programs. Currently his general score (68) and Violent score (39) qualifies him as a "high risk". In order for Mr. Ward to "cash in" on all of the credits he's earned from programming, he would have to be assessed as minimum or low risk of recidivating for at least one assessment.(An assessment period can be anywhere between 6-12 months). This is technically impossible.
PATTERN consists of fifteen factors eleven are "dynamic" i.e. programming and education. Four are "static" meaning criminal history and age at time of assessment. The dynamic factors work to lower the risk of recidivating by encouraging prisoners to program and maintain clear conduct. Ultimately, they can earn and "cash in" on time credits which can be transferred to community correctional placement (halfway house, home confinement), or supervised release.
If Mr. Ward took advantage of every EBRR program or Productive Activity this would only subtract 8 points from his general score. Again if Mr. Ward took one thousand programs the amount that he can reduce his score is "capped" at 8 points? If Mr. Ward had the opportunity to earn his Bachelors degree while incarcerated he could only get an additional 4 points subtracted from his general score. Being that Wards score is through the roof, he does not have the means to lower his score through PATTERN.
Disillusioned Mr. Ward stated,"I really feel like signing out of this program. What am I here for?" days later with the same defeated expression, "Why would they make it almost impossible to cash in on credits that I already earned? It feels like I am hustling backwards?"
"Hey Ahki can we get these time credits"? shouts Malaki.
"Nah you guys are ineligible," I responded while handing him the Federal Register dated January 19, 2022.
Malaki is from the District of Colombia and one of the 4,049 prisoners excluded from earning time credits. Under the National Capital Revitalization and Self Government Improvement Act of 1997 all D.C code offenders are held in Bureau custody. The majority of these prisoners are minorities from impoverished and over policed communities.
Moreover, The First Step Act enumerates sixty-eight offenses which disqualify tens of thousands of prisoners from earning time credits. The majority of these offenses pertain to drugs, weapons, and violence, common elements of the criminal lifestyle. A majority of these offenses are committed by minorities from impoverished and over-policed communities.
On August 27, 2020 131,386 prisoners had been assessed under the Risk and Needs Assessment Tool(PATTERN). 50,060 classified as high-risk, 25,043 classifies as medium risk, 38,084 classified as low risk, and 18,199 classified as minimum risk. Per the Department of Justice, 65,000 prisoners from this "sample group" would be ineligible to earn time-credits based solely on their criminal convictions.
United States sentencing Guidelines are based on the instant offense and offenders are given additional time based on their "criminal history". The vast majority of prisoners incarcerated at the Bureau of Prisons 122 facilities, are "recidivists" who are at the prime age to recidivate(24-40 years of age), almost 82,000 prisoners are within this cohort? The majority of these prisoners are minorities from communities of color.
People who have entered this country illegally or "have a final order of removal under immigration law" are also excluded from earning credits from programming. I have been in Federal prison for 6,519 days @MCCNY @MDCBKLYN @USPPOLLOCK @USPBeaumont @USPThomson and @USPCanaan. Through my travels I have come across thousands of prisoners who have entered this country "illegally". Not one of these guys was from Scandinavia. They were mostly from places our former President referred to as S***hole countries?
So to be clear, not one of the eighty-two prisoners at USPCanaan, currently enrolled in one of the BOP's marquee programs "Challenge", can apply the hundreds of days of earned credit because they fall within one of the above listed categories. The majority are minority prisoners. All but one is a recidivist, and he can't even meet the criteria to get the credit time he's earned from programming.
We are cynics, inherently skeptical of laws and policies that tend to neglect their actual reality on the ground. Confirmation bias is prevalent here and "I told you so" seems to be a constant mantra when it comes to long promised criminal justice reform.
Since President Biden has come into office, the population of the BOP has increased by 5,000?
"I told you so."
The PATTERN Algorithm is highly susceptible to racial and ethnic bias. It clearly has a disproportionate effect on thousands of people of color. It clearly distinguishes those who are eligible and those who are not. Based on what.....RACE? The tool uses factors that inhibit those who are black,and brown from underserved communities too "cash in" on credits they earned from doing the right thing in prison. The BOP seems to be on the offense by subtly changing how it classifies its prisoner population to create the appearance of the just application of the tool.
According to recent BOP population statistics there are currently 2,344 Asians(1.5%), 3,884 Native Americans(2.5%), 59,571 Blacks (38.1%), and a whooping 90,361(58.2%) who are classified as White? I guess all of the Hispanic guys are really Scandinavian? It's difficult to declare that the Algorithm is a biased tool if there are "NO" Hispanics in the control data? The Department of Justice found that only 7% of Black people in the sample were classified as minimum level risk compared to 21% of white people. How many of this 21% had the last name Martinez or Acosta?
The majority of people incarcerated in the United States are minorities from communities that are overpoliced, and impoverished. From a sociological standpoint, incarceration keeps communities safe by clearly defining a societies moral boundaries. Yet if prisons are churning out thousands of recidivists a year, are they really keeping our communities safe?
Recidivism is a societal problem and for the BOP to encourage participation in programs which are evidence based and proven to reduce the risk of people returning to prison is a good start. Pattern is just the wrong mechanism. It may actually increase recidivism by discouraging prisoners to sign up for the programs that they "need" like the Challenge, which by immersion can influence massive behavioral change.
Prisoners need jobs! Prisoners should be afforded the opportunity to produce products that are manufactured overseas. Prisoners should be mandated to work. No option at all. Jobs that pay a minimum wage give prisoners two characteristic traits that are invaluable in society, a "work ethic" and "self-esteem". Employment is a proven recidivism buster. Earning $7.25 an hour would reduce the amount of violence in prison, which translates to safer communities.
Prisoners should be mandated to program, and need more access to post educational and vocational programs. The mandate should be for prisoners to obtain a GED? Why are people leaving prison digitally illiterate without GED's? Education reduces recidivism.
Investing in quality staff, and Digitizing these facilities is an investment in safer communities. Paying correctional staff wages comparable with other law-enforcement agencies makes sense. They are a buffer between the community, and the correctional environment. Understaffing creates a dangerous situations. My teacher should not constantly be working the housing unit due to staff shortages.
Prisoners need to have ample opportunities to keep family relationships intact. Violence would decrease ten-fold if prisoners were able to see their families via facetime. It's 2022 and prisoners in Federal prisons are going decades without being able to "physically" touch their loved ones. This creates irreparable harm and gives us the impression that "we are all we got".
This is the recidivist mindset which thrives in here, the shock of re-entry is further exacerbated by not having the ability to build these family connections, which is devastating. This is cruel and unusual punishment and creates a higher risk of recidivism. PATTERN can't discern that prisoners need family to be successful. You do not need an Algorithm to treat prisoners like human beings with respect and dignity.
We do not need PATTERN. What we need is the Department of Justice and Congress to hold U.S. prisons to a higher standard. Broad oversight and transparency will shed light on a culture that operates with impunity. The rate at which people return to prison following release is a key metric when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of a nations criminal justice system. 95% of prisoners eventually will be going home, yet within three years 77% will be returning?
Ramsey B Clarke the Attorney General under President Lyndon Baines Johnson said, "There are few better measures of the concern a society has for its individual members and its own well being than the way it handles criminals".
As an American society, can't we do a better job?
Khalid Barnes is a prison rights advocate who is pursuing an advanced degree in Sociology with an emphasis on Criminology from Adams University.@barneskhalid321 #MassiveIncarceration #15MinutesIsNotEnough
Eddie K Wright also contributed to this article. Eddie K Wright