Transforming Prisons, Restoring Lives

Executive Summary

Incarceration in America has shown unprecedented growth with no indications of slowing down. As prison populations increase, the cost to maintain this system increases. This results from the need for more staff, housing, and feeding inmates. As more is invested in the current system, the goals of incarceration are still being undermined. Improving public safety, avoiding future victimization, and rehabilitation of criminals is no longer attainable in such an overburdened system.

By 2015, there were 197,000 people incarcerated in the federal prison system. By reallocating the appropriate resources and making drastic changes in policy, that population can be decreased by 60,000. This would also save the federal prison system up to 5 billion dollars. The savings from these new policies and resources could then be used in other much-needed areas such as national security, law enforcement (and weapons like the best tactical shotgun), and victim assistance.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and the Department of Justice (DOJ) spend a quarter of its budget on the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). This is partially due to the fact that a large portion, approximately 40 percent, of prisoners that are released from federal prison are arrested again. While almost half of the prisoners are being re-incarcerated, the facilities tend to operate at 20 percent above capacity. Resources and staff are increasingly being used to maintain security roles instead of focusing on mental health issues, addiction treatment, and recidivism. This creates an expensive cycle that does nothing to benefit public safety or prepare criminals to reintegrate into society.

As these issues became more severe, Congress responded by creating the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections. The task force was composed of a diverse panel of criminal justice practitioners, lawmakers, and stakeholders. The goal of this Task Force was to conduct a year-long fact-finding mission to identify the source of the prison population growth. They also advised on policies, gave research-backed recommendations, and create accountability in the criminal justice system for both its conduct and the prisoners’ conduct.

Throughout their research, the Task Force identified the cause of the drastic growth. In the 1980s, there was a dramatic increase in drug and weapons offenses. This was paired with mandatory minimum sentences that required longer terms for these types of offenses. While prison sentences were being handed out more frequently and for longer durations, limits were enacted on credits that shortened sentences, such as the “good conduct time”. On top of that, immigration crimes were starting to be more stringently enforced. This caused the prison populations to surge.

After thorough discovery, the Task Force established guidelines to follow while creating their recommendations. They decided that sentencing and incarceration should be tailored to individual cases. Broadly used prison sentences are not beneficial to the individuals and usually do not include steps for rehabilitation or treatment. They also decided that the policies should focus more on public safety than on criminal punishment. Enacting reforms to guide and aid prisoners in their reintegration to society will prevent repeat offenses.

While tailored sentences and a focus on public safety is critical, the duration of incarceration needs to be warranted. This means that the prisoner is given sufficient time to deter their behavior, pay the retribution for the crime, and to be rehabilitated to rejoin society. This also means that the prisoners are not given unnecessarily long sentences. The last guideline the Task Force established was that all of their recommendations should be data and research-driven with improving public safety as the main goal. Speaking of data, check out this research-driven guide on choosing the best tactical pistol.

It is important to note that the recommendations and policies suggested by the Task Force will require an initial investment. The goals are to save money and reduce prison populations in the long-term. To implement the necessary reforms and programs to achieve this, the current system will need an initial injection of funding and resources.

Recommendation 1

In the federal system, prison sentencing should be reserved for major offenses. Mandatory minimum sentences should be replaced with prison alternatives that focus on the individuals’ cases. Examples of these are probation and specialty court. The overarching goal is to reduce the prison population while furnishing more constructive aid to the minor offenders.

Recommendation 2

The federal system needs to emphasize safety and rehabilitation while focusing on the risk and needs of the individual. Prison conditions need to be safe and humane so inmates can focus on their self-improvement. Inmates should also have individualized case plans that will guide them through programs and aid in their rehabilitation. Giving inmates a safe environment and guidance will allow them to focus on how to best reintegrate and prevent repeat offending.

Recommendation 3

Evidence-backed risk-reduction programs should be implemented and encouraged. Programs such as cognitive behavioral therapy, addiction treatment, and educational classes should be integrated into the individualized case plans. Once complete, the inmates should be rewarded for their participation with sentence reductions.

Recommendation 4

Inmates should be supervised and supported before and after their release. Giving inmates the tools and closely monitoring their progress ensures they have learned and developed the necessary skills and lessons needed to succeed upon release. The goal is to have them successfully rejoin society permanently instead of re-offending and returning to prison.

Recommendation 5

Cooperation, clear communication, and shared goals between federal agencies are necessary for reducing incarceration rates and repeat offenses. The collaboration will aid in the creation and implementation of policies and create accountability between the agencies.

Recommendation 6

The savings accrued from the new policies and programs should be reinvested into the federal prison system. The initial cost for staff and expansion of the courts and probation will be mitigated by the long-term savings. Just like if you were going to buy a reliable 300 blackout rifle. It’ll cost a bit upfront, but will pay itself off over time. As prison populations lessen, the savings will increase. Eventually, savings can be further reinvested into programs, treatments, and supervision.

Overview of the Task Force

In January 2014, Congress recognized the need for change in the federal corrections system. The Charles Colson Task Force for the Federal Corrections was created in response. The Task Force’s namesake, Charles Colson, worked under President Nixon during the Watergate Scandal. He was sentenced and sent to a federal prison where he started several advocacy groups including, Prison Fellowship and Justice Fellowship. He then went on to earn the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2008. In 2012, he passed away at 80 years old.

The Chair of the Task Force was former congressman J.C. Watts, JR. (R-OK) and the Vice Chair was former congressman Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV). This bipartisan led Task Force featured experts and criminal practitioners from state and federal levels. They looked critically at the current policies, judicial data, impacts of overcrowding, case management, and more.

The Task Force toured prison facilities, interviewed corrections staff, defense bar members, governors, and advocacy groups. After thorough research, they presented their recommendations and findings to Congress, the President, and the Attorney General. They also created a website to publish policy briefs on.

The Task Force, through their thorough research and discovery, developed recommendations for policy on federal corrections. It also pushed for further analysis of the goals and the implementation of incarceration. By identifying the causes of overcrowding and rising costs, they were able to create an effective strategy to reduce populations and generate savings.

This post is credited to the Members of the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections.

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