Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Archive for the ‘Legislation Watch – Federal’ Category

More Government Foot-Dragging on Prison Rape

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The Department of Justice hired consultants from Booz Allen Hamilton to assess the costs and benefits of adopting national standards against prison rape. The Booz Allen crew reported back, as Amanda Hess notes, on only one half of the equation: their 414-page report “includes the costs of the PREA standards, not the benefits—like people not being raped anymore.” (photos below from Just Detention International)

Inspector General: DOJ Not Effectively Monitoring Reentry Programs

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The Department of Justice has distributed tens of millions of dollars to state and local prisoner reentry programs around the country in recent years, but has done a poor job of tracking whether those programs have been successful, according to a recently released audit from the DOJ’s Inspector General. Reviewing federal reentry grants made between 2002 and 2010, the audit found little evidence of DOJ monitoring or follow-up with grant recipients. Because the DOJ did not establish clear standards for data collection, it is difficult to know whether the programs it has funded have reduced recidivism rates. DOJ officials say they have already begun to implement some of the reforms called for by the audit and that future grants will be better monitored. The full report is available via Main Justice at the above link, or as a PDF from the DOJ here.

Federal funding for reentry programs is made under three umbrellas. The Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) was established in 2002 as a collaboration between several federal agencies, and has awarded over $100 million in grants. The DOJ’s Reentry Initiative was introduced in President Bush’s 2004 State of the Union address as “a four-year, $300 million” grants program “to expand job training and placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based groups.” This program awarded about $33 million in grants between 2006 and 2008. Finally, the Second Chance Act, which was signed into law in April 2008, also provides funding for prisoner reentry programs, though so far only about $11 million of SCA grants have been awarded.

Well, Today’s the Day…

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… the DOJ’s deadline, imposed by Congress in 2003, for adopting national standards for eliminating prison rape. Unfortunately, the DOJ will miss the deadline. Pressured by what The Hill calls the “prison industry” — although, of course, the “prison industry” is ostensibly not an industry but a sector of our democratic system of government — Attorney General Eric Holder is delaying the promulgation of any regulations. In the words of Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va):

The longer you delay, the more people will be raped in prison. It’s unconscionable that [DoJ] officials are blocking it now. I don’t know what Holder’s problem is.

Written by sara

June 23, 2010 at 6:06 am

Both Houses of Congress Now Considering Criminal Justice Legislation

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With the introduction of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act in the House earlier this week, both houses of Congress are now considering the legislation, which has already been making its way through the Senate. Here’s why the ACLU endorses the bill (the quote is from ACLU lobbyist Laura Murphy):

“Our badly broken justice system is in desperate need of an overhaul and the National Criminal Justice Commission Act will put a mechanism in place that can address that need. Our current criminal justice system is both unfair and unsustainable. America’s minorities have been suffering under our unbalanced criminal justice system due to unfair statutes, including our disparate crack powder sentencing guidelines. Judges are forced to use mandatory minimums as a one-size-fits-all solution to complex cases, forcing too many Americans to spend too much time behind bars.”

Of course, few people who study the criminal justice system would disagree with those statements, but is a blue-ribbon commission the best solution? Over at Sentencing Law & Policy, Doug Berman is skeptical:

I think much good could come from having a new “blue-ribbon bipartisan commission charged with undertaking an 18-month comprehensive review of the Nation’s criminal justice system,” especially if this National Criminal Justice Commission is effectively staffed and funded.  But I am fearful that the creation of a new study commission, who won’t issue recommendations until probably 2012 or beyond, could become a distraction from the critical important federal criminal justice reform work that could and should be getting done right now. [Such as, Berman suggests, eliminating the cocaine/crack federal sentencing disparity.]

Written by sara

April 28, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Help End Prison Rape, Preserve Due Process: Two Opportunities for Public Comment on Federal Prison Regulations

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If you have an extra five minutes today, here are two easy ways for you to share your opinion with the federal government and make your thoughts part of the public record. You can be sure that corrections officials and lobby groups will be seeking to influence the government on both these issues, so it’s important that ordinary citizens make their voices heard as well.

(1) Write to the DOJ urging adoption of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Standards

As I’ve noted before, the Department of Justice is currently accepting public comments on whether it should adopt the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission standards. The public comment period ends soon (May 10), so take a few minutes today to submit your comment, if you haven’t already. The proposed standards are based on best practices from prison systems that have made concrete progress in reducing sexual abuse behind bars — so their adoption nationwide could make a real difference in combating what’s become a true human rights crisis in this country. If you feel that you need more information about the scope of the problem, check out the details and links at the Just Detention International website. Then, there are a number of easy ways to submit your comment into the public record:

  • Visit www.regulations.gov, search for “Docket No. OAG-131” as your keyword, then click “Submit a Comment.” You’ll be taken to a form where you can enter your comment as text or upload an attachment.
  • Sign this petition at Change.org, which will submit a form letter to Eric Holder on your behalf.
  • If you prefer snail mail, sample letters and addresses are available from Prison Fellowship.

(2) Write to the Bureau of Prisons about its so-called “Communications Management Units

As reported here by Politico, the Obama Administration is reviving a set of rules first proposed but later abandoned by the Bush Administration to keep terrorism-related federal prisoners in special, isolated facilities, with very extreme restrictions on their outside communications. These so-called “Communications Management Units” are actually already in use, and in a recently filed lawsuit, prisoners allege they’ve been transferred there with no notice or due process, and without any clear standards as to who qualifies for this treatment. By belatedly publishing a set of rules for the CMUs, the administration may be hoping to forestall that lawsuit’s claim that the use of CMUs was never subject to public notice and comment, as is generally required of new federal regulations. (I blogged about the lawsuit here).

Note that by definition these rules would affect not the so-called “worst of the worst” terrorism-related prisoners (who would likely be sent to the federal supermax in Colorado, if not whatever substitute for Guantanamo the administration comes up with) but rather, as Politico puts it, “prisoners who are perceived by the government or as a result of their crimes to be more likely to try to associate with terrorist networks” (my emphasis: note all the implicit “ifs”). Prisoners currently in the CMUs claim they’ve been singled out for their religious or political beliefs, or in retaliation for filing grievances against the prison system — not for legitimate safety reasons — and that they weren’t given any opportunity to view or challenge the evidence allegedly supporting their isolation.

  • If you choose to write to Eric Holder about this general issue, the Center for Constitutional Rights has some suggested language. You can also send a form letter through their website by clicking here.
  • If you want to comment specifically on the new federal regulations, you have until June 7. To submit your comment, go to www.regulations.gov and search for “BOP Docket No. 1148-P” as your keyword, then click “Submit a Comment.” Then upload your comment as text or an attachment. The Brennan Center for Justice makes some points about the proposed regs that you may want to incorporate into your comment.

House Holds Hearings on Prison Sexual Abuse

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And if the statistics in the BJS reports are not enough, I ask you to consider one of these children, who have been beaten, assaulted and raped with no recourse or power to stop it, what if that child was the child’s picture you carry in your pocketbook or wallet? … Perhaps then we would not continue to hold hearings, create another commission or issue more reports.

— Grace Bauer, prepared testimony for House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, Feb. 23, 2010.

Last month, the Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a troubling report showing that 12% of youth held in juvenile detention facilities report being the victim of sexual abuse, whether by other youth or staff. (New York Times columnist Ross Douthat covered this issue last week; the New York Review of Books published a lengthy discussion of the report here, and Public Criminology crunched the numbers here.) As I’ve blogged about before, the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 exacerbates the problem by making it very hard for juveniles who’ve been abused to seek judicial relief. The Prison Abuse Remedies Act (H.R. 4335), sponsored by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and supported by the ACLU, would remove the PLRA’s procedural hurdles for juveniles under 18.

Yesterday, the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held hearings on preventing sexual assault in juvenile and adult prisons. The witness list included American University law professor Brenda Smith; Troy Erik Isaac, who was raped while in juvenile custody in California (NPR interviewed him here); Bernard Warner, head of California’s juvenile justice system; Sheriff Gabriel Morgan of Newport News, Va.; and Grace Bauer, whose son was adjudicated delinquent and who works with the Campaign for Youth Justice. After the jump I’ll provide some highlights from their prepared testimony.

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The Myth of the Frivolous Prisoner Lawsuit

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I recently came across this op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, making light of prisoner abuse claims. “If there is a goofy lost cause, a prisoner has found it,” goes the headline, and from there, columnist Mike Nichols goes on to ridicule a series of prisoner lawsuits filed in recent years in his home state of Wisconsin. (The op-ed starts out by lampooning the Seventh Circuit’s recent decision upholding a prison ban on the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.)

It would be nice to think that Mike Nichols is right — that the real problem with America’s prisons is that prisoners just have too much time on their hands, and too much access to the courts, and so they wile away their days dreaming up frivolous lawsuits — but in reality, prisoners are less litigious than the general public, and more importantly, the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 has had the effect of making it very, very difficult for prisoners who have been raped, assaulted, or otherwise abused behind bars to seek judicial relief. As noted in a recent New York Times op-ed:

Prisons across the country have used [the PLRA] to dismiss suits challenging all kinds of outrageous treatment: strip-searching of female prisoners by male guards; revealing to other inmates that a prisoner was H.I.V.-positive; forcing an inmate to stand naked for 10 hours.

Legislation introduced in December 2009 by Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA) would remove some of the PLRA’s more onerous requirements so that inmates who’ve been raped, abused, or assaulted behind bars — especially those under 18, who have perhaps suffered most under the PLRA — have a better chance of getting their day in court. The bill has the support of a broad coalition of lawyers and organizations (including the American Bar Association and the United Methodist Church).

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