When President Obama was elected President of the United States he promised to have a transparent administration. This would ensure those whom he elected as Government officials would be transparent in their job functions.
I want to discuss what happens when there is no transparency, and little or no oversight, with some of these elected officials.
What I have here is the summary testimony of Dr. James Austin, of the JFA Institute, before the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight, and Governmental Reform Subcommittee of Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia.
My testimony today is based on a study I recently completed for the US Parole Commission. The Commission wanted to know if the criteria it is using to parole prisoners sentenced prior to 2000 under the old DC sentencing code or to revoke parole criteria are significant as they can serve to significantly lengthen a prisoner’s period of imprisonment by many years.
The Study also looked at the extent to which DC prisoners who are housed in the BOP system were receiving programs and what impact those programs were having on recidivism rates. The detailed results of the study and the full report have been forwarded to the Committee.
The major findings of the study were as follows:
1. DC prisoners released in 2002 who had been sentenced under the DC code prior to August 2002 as compared to other state prisoners had much longer sentences and served longer prison terms.
2. About two thirds (67%) of the prisoners released in 2002 were re-arrested at least one time, 52% were re-convicted and 37% were returned to the custody if the BOP within three years of being released from prison. These rates are comparable to other states.
3. The average number of arrests (1.9) during this three year post release period is much lower than the rate of arrests three years for the same prisoners prior to their incarcerated (5.9). In effect the rate of arrests dropped by over 60% (from 5.9 to 1.9 arrest per prisoners).
4. The types of crimes being committed by the released DC prisoners are similar to other states in that they vast majorities are non-violent in nature.
5. Consistent with other studies, the amount of time imprisoned (length of stay) is not associated with rates of recidivism.
6. Most of the factors being used by the Commission to assess risk are not good predictors of recidivism.
7. An alternative risk instrument that relies on the conduct of the prisoner and programs he or she has completed while in the BOP does a better job of assessing the prisoner risk level.
8. The Commission is also using factors (crime severity and prior record )that are not related to recidivism that are being used to significantly extend the period of imprisonment.
9. For parole violators the amount of time served for a technical violation can exceed the original sentence.
10. This practice is placing too much emphasis on the SFS as criteria for revocations – especially given the lack of prediction in the instrument as shown earlier.
Based on these findings the following recommendations have been made to the Commission and the BOP.
1. Change the guidelines and implement a new risk instrument that takes into account the prisoners conduct while incarcerated (dynamic factors).
2. Discontinue the use of factors being used to enhanced presumptive release dates and replace them with a simple offense/risk level matrix.
3. Alter the current practice of extending parole eligibility dates solely on offense severity and history of violence; especially given the long period of incarceration for DC prisoners and the lack of relationship between length of time served and recidivism.
4. Review its parole revocation grid and allow for much shorter periods of incarceration with the assumption that low risk parolees shall not be re-incarcerated for low severity violations.
5. There should be a concerted effort to reduce the length of imprisonment and parole supervision based on good conduct and completion of programs while incarcerated within the BOP. Such efforts would include allowing release at the earlier stage of sentence, awarding of good-time credits for prisoners who complete rehabilitative programs and allowing for the period of the parole supervision to be reduced based on good conduct.
6. Given the dynamic factors related to prisoner completion of rehabilitative programs are associated to lower recidivism rates, a study should be conducted by the Commission and the Bureau of Prisons to determine if DC sentenced prisoners are receiving the same level of services as other BOP prisoners.
I have briefed the Commission, the BOP and the US Department of Justice on this study and its policy implication. Based on that meeting the Commission has agreed to initiate a project that will result in a revised risk instrument and new guidelines for 1) the release of DC prisoners sentenced under the “old” indeterminate sentencing guidelines, 2) the imposition of conditions of parole supervision (both old and new law sentenced prisoners and 3) the revocation of community/parole supervision.
The project will also include the Bureau of Prisons, the DC Sentencing Commission, the DC Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, the US Attorney, and the Community Supervision of Offenders Agency (CSOSA).
It is expected that these new guidelines will increase the rate of parole for “old” sentenced prisoners and reduce the number of prisoners being revoked and returned to prison – especially the length of time of the imprisonment for a revocation. I expect these new guidelines to be completed by this summer.
First I want to say that I received this memo in the year of 2009. It has been 6 years since this testimony has taken place. I have seen the parole board twice in that time.
I want to given a brief account of my experiences with the Parole Board and you can judge if 1. what the Commission agreed to is being upheld, as mention in Dr. Austin’s testimony and 2. if I fit the criteria’s of what would be ideal for release on parole. After hearing of these accounts the next question is who is willing to hold the Commission accountable when they do not abide by the transparency that the President has required for all of his cabinet members.
What happened to me is what happens when there is no oversight and nor transparency, as the Commissions refuse to respond to letters written from many supporters, as to why I am being dealt with harshly, when seen by the parole board. They want to know how is it a person who fits all the criteria, and more, is made to do more prison time; especially in light of the Commissions agreeing, in front of the House of Representatives, to changing the practice they used in the past.
In the year 2010 I had my first parole hearing. I was scored as a 2, which meant that I was eligible for parole. Due to the nature of the offense, second degree murder, it was recommended that I receive a 1 year set off for a rehearing. Due to the seriousness of the offense I understood his reasoning.
At the time of the 2010 hearing I had completed all of the required programs, and other programs. I had strong outside support and employment upon release. I had served the time I was sentenced to, I was sentenced to 20 years to life and my initial parole date was set at the 85% mark of that sentence. When I saw the parole board I had completed 17 years, 85%. When the hearing examiner made the recommendations he made it based on a prior juvenile conviction. I was a juvenile, 17, at the time of committing this offense; I was charged, convicted and sentenced as an adult.
The recommendation the hearing examiner made was consistent with the DC 1987 sentencing and parole guidelines. When the Commissioners reviewed it they set me off 3 years. They disregarded the recommendation of a 1 year set off, took me outside the guidelines and gave me 3 years.
In 2013 I had my re-hearing. I continued to program and abide by the rule of the prison. I had sought other certifications outside of prison and earned, paid for by my money, other skills that could be used upon release. I began to teach “Victim Impact” classes and other cognitive behavior programs that were popular through the prison, as a result I worked, through these program, with the Associate Warden of Programs of the institution. She was in fact my staff representative at my parole hearing.
At that hearing it was noted by the hearing examiner that I was a better candidate for parole the second time than I was the first time. She was impressed that I had maintained clear conduct, considering the length of the first set off of 3 years. She was equally impressed that my staff representative was the Associate Warden, it gets no higher than this as far as recommendations within the prison. As a result the hearing examiner recommended parole.
The Commissioners made a decision to set me off 5 years to a rehearing. FIVE YEARS!! For what! For being a good inmate, for having the skills needed to be a responsible citizen upon release, for having family ties and support in the community, for having a job awaiting me upon release, for not getting into trouble while doing the set off of 3 years, for having someone who runs the prison, one who is hired and entrusted to oversee the day to day activities of inmates, speak well on my behalf! Unbelievable!
What is going to happen and change in 5 more years? The role of the Parole board is to release prisoners at a time when they have serve an appropriate amount of the sentence, that which is compatible to the sentence handed down by the courts.
They also are to make decisions based on the conduct of the prisoner. It is not the function of the parole board to act in a manner where they decide, based on personal opinions and feelings, as to when a person is ready to return back to society, if they have satisfied the sentence of the courts and maintained clear conduct during their incarceration.
The United States Parole Commission is, and will always act in an unfair and biased manner. All of the Commissioners have backgrounds in law enforcement. The head Commission was the Chief of Police of DC, and responsible for the arrest of many DC prisoners, he also lost a close relative to homicide. How can he or any of the other Commissioners act in a unbiased manner when they have spent their whole lives and careers chasing down the “bad guy” to lock him up. Or have suffered the lost of love ones due to crime. They now find themselves in a position to let go the same guys they locked up! Really!
The mindset is punitive and often unforgiving. They are acting in a manner that shows biasness and unfairness, due to the nature of a persons offense, although a person has 1. been incarcerated many years and demonstrate behavior in that shows remorse for their crimes. They have acquired programs that will make them less likely to commit crimes and victimize in the future. Doing time does not determine not persuade one to not commit crime. It is what they do with the time spent incarcerated that determines that.
I have spent my time in a productive manner and the reward for doing good is to do more time! Although I have done over the 20 years the courts sentenced me to.
It is time the Parole Commissioners begin to offer legitimate reasons for their actions. No one is asking that crime and punishment be taken lightly, but that freedom is given to those that deserve it; those who have, show remorse by acting in a manner that show change, in behavior and actions.
It is time the public begin to ask questions and demand answers. As long as the public is silent about the Commissioners actions they will continue to act in a punitive manner, abusing the power they have.
The old policies do not work; in fact the Justice Dept is looking for ways to right the wrongs of an unjust sentencing guideline. The government is looking for ways to climb out of deficit, which includes minimizing the cost of incarceration.
The US is slowly turning the ship around they are looking at more productive, fairer and progressive ways to deal with incarceration in America. Why is the US Parole Commission still acting in a manner contrary to the rest of the Criminal Justice System? Is this the type of administration Obama wanted. I know he is not the most popular President, at time time. But, what does it say about a system that will have members of Government testify in front of Congress, yet not hold them to their testimony. What does it say about its citizens who, now, know the truth yet refuse to make it binding on those who made the testimony. It is a disrespect to the moral standard set by the Constitution, to allow this to
Join us and lets work together and right the wrong. Pass this along to as many people you can, contact us and chime in, contact the media if you have the resources to do so. Ask question to those that work within Government, DC, federal or other to find out the best recourse in holding our government officials liable and responsible when they are wrong.
It as much of a crime to testify in front of Congress and lie as it is to commit a street crime. It is another means deception, lack of accountability, and oversight. It is a crime to keep the acts of those in charge out of the public sight, when they are wrong. There has to be oversight and accountability; or transparency as President Obama promised the American people.
Now it is out in the open and I hope and pray that there people out there willing to help right this wrong. I know it is a chance but this chance is one worth taking.