A Flawed Corrections System

chelsea-furman

Chelsea Furman
Heartland News Writer,
Nebraska

Many people don’t know the difference between parole, probation, and supervised release. Often people confuse parole for the last term, not even knowing that supervised release exists. In a society where correctional facilities are intended to correct problems, it is a problem when the people of the community aren’t aware of what’s going on. It is problematic that our society still fictionalizes and glorifies parole boards when parole isn’t used in most cases.
Supervised release made a debut in 1984 with the passing of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 and replaced federal parole for all crimes committed after November 1, 1987. The argument was, parole was too arbitrary. Someone could get parole for one year if that was all that was left of a sentence, while someone else could get 5 years parole for the same crime. Instead, at sentencing, a defendant is now given the amount of time he or she will be sentenced to be in prison, and then he or she is also informed of any extra time under supervised release he or she will serve. The initial change had good intentions and was favorable to the ex-criminals. Unlike parole, minor violations would not necessarily result in revocation. A year later, that was changed with the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988, where any drug-related charge immediately resulted in revocation.
If this seems fair, look at supervised release a little deeper U.S. Code § 3583. Also note that until the individual is released from supervised release they are still considered an inmate, even though they have served their time. Supervised release is considered time that is tacked on to the end of a prison sentence. The law states that any restrictions must be relevant and not obstruct the person’s liberties any more than is necessary. First, there are mandatory stipulations which apply in all cases: the convict shall not commit another Federal, State, or local crime, the inmate can’t possess drugs, is subject to DNA Collection, he or she will face fine payments, restitution payments, and assessment payments. On top of these there are secondary rules and stipulations which can be put on the criminal. These are just a few:

• Support Dependents
• Limit Employment
• No Frequenting Places, Associating with People
• Excessive Use of Alcohol/Drugs
• Attend Treatment (mental & substance abuse)
• Intermittent Confinement
• Community Corrections
• Community Service
• Residence Location
• Travel Limitation
• Report to Probation
• Allow Home Visits
• Answer Questions
• Notify After Arrest
• Home Confinement
• Deportation
• No New Lines of Credit
• Give Financial Information
• Sex Offender Treatment
• Curfew
• Financial Counseling
• No Gambling
• No Drinking
• Get GED
• Attend Job Training
• Search of Home and Person
• Computer Monitoring
• No Internet Usage

Failure to comply with any stipulation likely will result in revocation; however, this isn’t at the discretion of the sentencing judge, or any judge; this is at the discretion of a supervisor. At the time an inmate is subject to what the supervisor decides could be a warning, it could be extended supervision, or it could be re-incarceration. A supervisor could decide that the inmate working part time at Walmart isn’t working enough and could extend their supervision period. This is no less arbitrary than the parole that supervised release was intended to replace.
What’s worse, our correctional system leaves inmates to sit on their hands while they serve time and sets them up to fail when they are released. A young man allowed me to share his story but wished to remain anonymous. Mark (25), was sentenced to jail time and probation with an array of stipulations for selling meth. His rules seemed easy enough; go to rehab, get a job, stay away from the people who do drugs, don’t commit crimes. He repeatedly called different rehab facilities; none would take him for a variety of reasons: he didn’t have a way to pay for rehab, he had been clean because he’d been in jail, or they didn’t have space. As a result, he ended up in the only shelter that had room for him, the wet shelter. A wet shelter is a place where an individual can go without submitting to a drug test or BAC test as long as he or she doesn’t do drugs and drink in the shelter. He met a variety of characters who drank a fifth and then entered, or snuck things in and used in the bathrooms. Soon he was sick of being homeless. When he finally found a place to call home, the place where he resided before his arrest, with his mother and some friends, it wasn’t long before he was picked up again and continued the cycle. This poor fellow started out hopeful, but was met with the same difficulties that led him down the path of selling drugs in the first place.
Instead of extending the time an inmate is an inmate, why are our correctional facilities not supporting their inmates when they are incarcerated? Why are individuals with no insurance and no income asked to meet demands that are near impossible due to their circumstances? I reached out on behalf of the Heartland News to interview an individual who wanted to speak based on his experiences for this article. I was informed he could not speak to any reporter because he was an inmate and he needed permission, which he never got. Despite his inmate status, he, like all others on supervised release, was no longer guaranteed food, shelter, medical care, or any other support. In other countries, where prisons actually rehabilitate inmates, recidivism rates are significantly lower than they are in our country. The National Institute of Justice reports that in the United States, within five years of release, 76.6% of individuals released are incarcerated again. Prisons need to be run with education in mind. Yes, a prisoner deserves the punitive environment that a prison provides, but that shouldn’t be all that a correctional facility does. If a society doesn’t want to see overfilled prisons and high numbers of multiple offences, prisons need to teach inmates strategies to be reintegrated instead of releasing inmates to the world with no support, because that’s what causes individuals to recommit crimes. If a man is caught selling drugs to feed himself and his mother, and he serves time and is later released with no support, he is bound to end up in the same place in a short time. In Finland, the recidivism rate is 40%. This low number is a direct result of the correctional facility workers acting as both enforcers and social workers. Instead of overcrowded cells, inmates reside in “cells” that resemble dorm rooms, some even containing kitchens.
Prisons need to help inmates be ready for reintegration. Prisons need to teach trades, help inmates get GED’s, teach inmates financing, provide mental health services, ensure appropriate housing before an inmate is released, set inmates up with appropriate internships, and ensure that case workers have the tools and drive to help inmates find resources once they have left the system. Supervised release as it is now creates problems and doesn’t give inmates a fair shot at reintegration. If an individual commits a crime which carries a sentence of no more than 10 years, with supervised release, the individual could be an inmate for 13-15 years and never commit another crime. Our country needs to make corrections in the correctional system so the United States can lower prison capacity and lower re-commit rates. Communities can do this by treating all inmates with respect and dignity, and by providing support during prison time so inmates can re-enter communities smoothly, instead of setting inmates up to fail. An inmate is judged for the worst moment in his or her life, not his or her whole person and all the actions they have ever done.

Sources: http://www.uscourts.gov and https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/3583

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