CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

        Resolution & Support

 

After we have made the last round of revisions and the defense attorney and defendant are satisfied with sentencing video, we create a link for the lawyer to present to the judge.

 

As mentioned earlier, we carefully choose who we believe would be best to represent the defendant. Since every case is different, and depending on the offense, we may choose to interview psychologists, therapists and even spiritual leaders to voice there opinions on what may be beneficial to the defendants future well being.

 

Dr. Jennie Singer, is a Forensic Psychologist at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. She provides psychological evaluations for offenders who are getting prepared for sentencing and suggests that inmates should all be receiving mental health evaluations, educational and therapeutic programs and appropriate medications. 

While not everyone who is facing an sentencing judge is in need of medications or therapeutic programs, there is still wonderful assistance and outreach programs that are available that could be extremely helpful in making sure that a defendant doesn't end up back in a situation that caused them to be in front of the courts again. In addition, there are new legislative reforms approved by Congress that are now being implemented that are helping to reform the justice system. 

TITLE VI - CRIMINAL JUSTICE - FIRST STEP ACT 2018

On December 21, 2018, the President signed into law the bipartisan First Step Act of 2018

Section 601. Placement of prisoners close to families who are separated by imprisonment. 

Under this new law, prisoners are now eligible to be relocated in a facility as close as practicable to the prisoner’s primary residence,” and to the extent possible within 500 driving miles of the inmate’s home.

Section 602. Home Confinement For Low-Risk Prisoners.

This part of the First Step Act changes current law to make clear that Congress intends for low-risk inmates to spend as much time as possible on home confinement. Under new existing law, inmates can spend up to 10% of their sentence or 6 months (whichever amount of time is less) on home confinement.

Section 603. Elderly Offender Home Detention And Compassionate Release Reform.

This law expands the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and makes critical changes to how compassionate release requests are considered, (Excluding elderly prisoners convicted of any Federal or State crimes of violence, sex offenses). The age for qualification is also now reduced from 65 years to 60 years of age.

Section 604. Law Now Makes It Manadatory To Help Inmates Obtain ID’s Prior to Release.

The FIRST STEP ACT requires assistance to inmates in obtaining identification including social security cards, driver’s licenses, and a birth certificate prior to inmates leaving prisons, halfway houses, etc.

Section 605. Expanding Inmate Employment Through Federal Prisons Industries.

Inmates working in UNICOR will be required to put 15 percent of all monies earned in UNICOR into a release fund. The funds may then be used by the prisoner “to assist the inmate with costs associated with release from prison.

Section 606. Required De-Escalation Training.

It is now a requirement that all officers learn how to de-escalate encounters with inmates and appropriately respond to incidents involving people with mental illness.

Section 607. Evidence Based Treatment for Opiod and Heroin Abuse.

Law now states that it is  required to submit a report to Congress on the availability of evidence-based programs for treating heroin and opioid abuse. What the FIRST STEP Act importantly includes here are a number of provisions that favor “medication-assisted” treatment for these terrible addictions. The First Step Act would also require a submission of a similar report on the availability of evidence-based treatments to people on supervised release within 120 days. Both reports are required to include description of plans to expand access to these programs,

Section 608. Pilot Programs.

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is required to establish two different types of pilot programs for 5 years in at least 20 facilities and report on them to Congress. The first type of program is a mentorship program which connects volunteers from community organizations and inmates. The second is a program to provide inmates with skills to provide training to animals seized by law enforcement or otherwise rescued.

TITLE V- SECOND CHANCE ACT  REAUTHORIZATION

Section five of the First Step Act is largely devoted to providing grant monies for Second Chance Act programs at the state level. 

TITLE IV- SENTENCING REFORM - FIRST STEP ACT

The FIRST STEP Act makes very significant changes to drug sentencing laws and mandatory minimums for repeat offenders in general. Importantly, these changes in applicable mandatory minimums are going to apply to anyone who has not yet been sentenced for their crimes.

Section 401. Reduce and Restrict Enhanced Sentencing for Prior Drug Felonies. 

  • The term “serious drug felony” is added to the definitions section of the Controlled Substances Act in 21 U.S.C. 802. A “serious drug felony” includes any conviction for a qualifying “serious drug offense” crime listed in 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)

  1. Resulted in 12 months or more of prison for this particular defendant; and

  2. The defendant was released from prison within 15 years of the current offense.

  • The term “serious violent felony” is added to the Controlled Substances definitions also. A “serious violent felony” is defined as a prior conviction for:

  1. Any offense described in 18 U.S.C. 3559(c)(2)(F) [listing specific qualifying crimes, and containing an elements and residual clause] that resulted in 12 months or more of prison for this particular defendant; and

  2. Any offense under 18 U.S.C. 113 [crimes within maritime and territorial jurisdiction of U.S.] which resulted in a 12 month or longer sentence for this defendant.

Section 404. Application of Fair Sentencing Act. 

The Fair Sentencing Act was enacted by Congress under President Obama. That law changed the disparity between how crack-cocaine offenses and powder-cocaine offenses were punished since the difference overwhelmingly punished people of color. Unfortunately, the Fair Sentencing Act initially only applied going forward.

The FIRST STEP Act will now make the change retroactive and provide justice to many long-time incarcerated offenders.

Offenders who are currently incarcerated in BOP and whose sentencing range would be lower under the current version of the applicable drug-quantity Sentencing Guidelines for crack-cocaine prior to 2010 will be allowed to file a motion to reduce their sentence.

TITLE I- RECIDIVISM REDUCTION - FIRST STEP ACT

Within 210 days after the First Step Act becoming law, the Attorney General is required to develop a “Risk and Needs Assessment System.” The First Step Act offers significant incentives to inmates for participating in recidivism reduction programs offered at BOP institutions.

Section 101. Risk and Needs Assessment Programs. 

A. Inmates Can Receive Incentives for Participating in Recidivism Reduction Programs.

The First Step Act offers significant incentives to inmates for participating in recidivism reduction programs offered at BOP institutions. These potentially include:

  • Phone privileges, or, if available, video conferencing privileges for up to 30 minutes per day, and up to 510 minutes per month;

  • Additional time for visitation at the prison as determined by the Warden;

  • Placement in a facility closer to the prisoner’s release residence, subject to bed availability, security level, and Warden support of request;

  • Increased commissary spending limits and product offerings;

  • Extended opportunities to access the email system;

  • Consideration of transfer to preferred housing units (including transfer to different prison facilities);

  • Other incentives solicited from prisoners and determined appropriate by the BOP Director.

SOLUTIONS TO INCARCERATION

There are many more sections in the  First Step Act of 2018. and it should be read very carefully. 

There has been a rise in the use of diversion programs such as mental health courts or drug courts across the country.  These courts work in collaboration with mental health and substance use treatment providers to help individuals who have mental health or substance use problems.

If there is a correlation between access to mental health care and incarceration the next important step is to research how systemic changes in access to mental health care can cause a reduction in incarceration.  Treatment such as Assertive Community Treatment and Multisystemic Therapy already have strong evidence for reducing days of incarceration. Investing in mental health and substance use services for all people will reduce the likelihood that individuals will ever face incarceration in their lifetime. 

When inmates with mental illnesses or severe drug addictions are released from prison, their priority is finding shelter, food, money and clothes. Even needs as basic as soap and a place to bathe can be hard to come by for people leaving jail or prison, especially when there is no family or friends who can help them out. This is because reentering the community after a period of incarceration can be an extremely difficult situation. In order to help individuals to not end back up in prison, it is of the utmost importance for there to be support groups that can help.

 

It actually makes much more sense to make sure that prison inmates not only receive therapeutic programs, drug counseling and career training while in custody, but continued assistance after they are released. Take for instance the case of Mr. Brad Ward.

Ending mass drug incarceration must begin with reforming the criminal justice system. As part of this change, showing judges a Complete Picture of the defendants offences,could have a major impact on lengthy prison sentences and in many cases, could even completely avert incarceration all together. This could also effect community's in that citizens would be back to support their families, pay taxes, and continue being beneficial members of society.

The overcriminalization of drug use is one of the reasons why most people in the US are incarcerated. In fact, drug offenses account for the incarceration of almost half a million people in the U.S. alone, and nonviolent drug convictions remain a defining feature of the federal prison system. Police make over 1 million drug possession arrests each year, and many of these arrests lead to prison sentences. Drug arrests give individuals permanent criminal records, hurting their employment prospects and increasing the likelihood of longer sentences for any future offenses.

 

We need to keep making our streets safer and our criminal justice system fairer  for the next generation.
                                      --- Barack Obama
                                   
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