I wrote the following in response to the above article on THE HILL.
I retired from a 27 year career with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. I worked in various positions from correctional officer (guard) to case manager, community corrections manager, and culminated my career with an assignment to the National Institute of Corrections in Washington DC.
During my career I was at the forefront of inmate management. I classified inmates to assess their security levels as well as their preparation for parole and for release. I oversaw community programs to transition them into the free world. With this in mind, I'd like to address the "myths" you targeted in your article.
Myth 1: All those in prison for federal drug offenses are violent traffickers
You state: This type of thinking perpetuates the overly simplistic idea that if you’re not a pot-smoking college kid, then you must be a serious drug kingpin.
The DEA, FBI, or any other law enforcement agency doesn't have to resources to chase after drug addicts and minor drug offenders. People who end up in federal prison are part of a larger network of a criminal enterprise, even if their part was a minor one. As far as violence, statistics only give a snapshot of a person's "instant offense." They don't give a complete picture of their criminal history, circumstances of the offense or plea bargaining. Al Capone's only major sentence was for tax evasion and he had a history of drug (illegal booze violations).
Myth 2: Reducing the federal prison population would result in a crime wave
You state: Lessons from state reform efforts bolster that finding, with reductions in both incarceration and crime rates occurring simultaneously.
If you look closely at those states you'll find that crime rates fell before the reduction of the prison population. Overall crime rates in our country have taken a plunge in the past 20 + years and consequently incarceration rates have begun to decline. Less crime equals less incarceration and not the other way around. More importantly, the purpose of the criminal justice system should be to reduce crime and not to reduce incarceration. We have overcrowded schools but education reformers don't demand a reduction in school enrollment.
Myth 3: Federal prisoners have ample access to programs behind bars
You state: Waitlists for GED programs and other rehabilitative offerings in federal prison are extremely long, despite the fact that many of these programs have been rigorously evaluated and proven effective.
A person serving a 20 year sentence can get into any program regardless of the wait. People serving long sentences are typically the ones who need these programs the most. More importantly, lack of education doesn't determine criminal behavior. Many federal inmates have college degrees and were in white collar professions from accountants to lawyers at the time of their arrest.
Myth 4: Law enforcement is opposed to prison reform
You state: To the contrary, prosecutors and police chiefs from all 50 states have called for reform.
As I stated earlier, our nation has experienced a plunge in crime. The cause of this is because of reform efforts by police, prosecutors and others to transform (rather than reform) the system. The criminal justice reform movement is merely an anti-incarceration effort that's concerned with reducing the prison population. Prisons are only one small part of the system and criminal justice has radically improved right under the noses of the "experts."
The system is collaborating with citizens to help solve problems at the neighborhood level. This is a new paradigm of justice that's occurred because of the system changing its operating practices rather than because of more laws and legal mandates. This is a "bottom up" effort rather than the "top down" approach of reformers.
Even prisons have been part of this transformation. Thanks to new architectural designs, better staff training, classification systems, and management methods, prisons have become much more peaceful in the past 30 years. Between 1980 and 2003 the state prison homicide rate dropped from 54.0 per 100,000 inmates to an astounding 5.7 per 100,000. This occurred despite an inmate population explosion.
It seems prison reformers should rejoice at such good news but they proceed as if nothing's changed in the past 40 years. I address this and much more in my book.