Archive for the ‘Inmate Programs’ Category

I first want to apologize to my followers for being negligent in posting. The last couple of years has taken time for adjustment. I am back now and more focused than ever. Despite the struggles and hardships I am still here. Although I have not posted anything for a while I have been keeping up to date with the latest prison reform issues. I ran across an article the other day and I thought it would be interesting to blog about it. I would like for others to pass this on, post it on your sites, face book pages, or anywhere else that may attract the attention of others.

Within the last year, there has been much talk about penal reform, reduced sentence, and changes in sentencing guidelines. Most recently Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Republican Tony Goudy (R- SC) and Democrats Cedric Richmond (D-LA) and Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY) introduce two legislative proposals related to the federal system. The H.R 759 Recidivism Risk Reduction Act; a bipartisan legislation that uses risk assessment tools to reduce recidivism, lower crime, and reduce the amount of money spent on the federal prison system. According to the Washington Post. Chaffetz goes on to say, “It’s no longer enough to be tough on crime. We have to be smart on crime as well. States have successfully implemented those strategies. As a result, they’ve seen a recidivism drop.” Congressman Richmond chimed in on the conversation by saying, “Our criminal justice system is in serious need of reform in many areas… One of these areas is our prison and post release supervising system. We need a better approach to incarceration that use effective strategies to reduce recidivism. Ensuring that people get the right programs and activates while in prison is used to ensure they are prepared for success after their release. I am pleased to join my colleagues in this bipartisan effort to move us closer to that goal.”

The H.R. 759 bill would allow for inmates to participate in programs that will allow them to earn good time points, while in custody. These points will be allotted based upon an inmates risk level. There will be level ranges from low to high. Low risk inmates will be allow to earn 30 days credit per month, moderate risk inmates 15 days and high-risk inmates 8 days. These credits will make them eligible for alternative custody, halfway houses, home confinement, ankle monitoring, etc. The portion of the adjusted sentence would be the remaining 15% of the overall sentence. The current federal sentencing guidelines, Truth in Sentencing, require for federal inmates to serve 85% of a sentence prior to being released. This program does not extend to certain offenders such as sex offenders, terror offenders and violent offenders. In short the federal government is looking for ways to make their more prison system more incentive based. They cut prison costs and reduce recidivism. In theory this plan is a good, at best. The question is will it work? Will it achieve the stated goals?

As we talk about federal housing it is important to talk about another type of prisoner being held in federal prisons, DC billable inmates who need to be accounted for, as talk of prison costs continues.

DC billable inmates are Washington DC’s prisoners that have cases out of Superior Court, (similar to state court). Federal prisoners have cases out of District Court (federal courts). DC’s Lorton Reformatory began closing in the mid 90’s. The last prisoner left in 200; when they closed the prison for good. DC inmates make up a large population of inmates hosed within the federal system. They are a mixture of prisoners serving sentences under different sentencing guidelines. One such guideline is incentive based, similar to the H.R. 759 bill. The main difference between the two is this particular DC sentencing guideline does not exclude inmates and two the DC guideline is a parole-able guideline. The federal system abolished parole many years ago. Although their are DC inmates sentenced under incentive based guidelines, where they would be rewarded for good behavior and program participation, those guidelines are not being honored nor applied when they have their parole hearings. These parole hearings are conducted by the United States Parole Commissions, which it the entity that handles the remaining federal parole cases. The USPC seems to be having a hard time applying these DC guidelines in many that is non punitive. There are DC inmates that have the privilege of seeing a parole board, they have meet many of the incentive requirements of the 1987 Good time Credit Act yet the USPC refuses to parole them, relying on punitive measures to justify giving them lengthy set off. How can Congress expect the H.R. 759 to be different than the DC guidelines, that are not being applied.

There is a large gap in theoretical planning and actual application of these bills that are being introduced. When they are passed they often take years before actually implementation. At that time someone is thinking of another strategy to use. DC inmates, who have the right to parole and early release are not being paroled, yet other bill are being proposed that will allow for other inmates to be released earlier, based on incentive approaches. Both, federal and DC, inmates contribute to the large amount of money spent for federal inmates. In some cases DC inmates cost more to house, up to $40,000 a year is paid to the federal government to simply house each DC inmate.

Will this new bill work? Will it achieve its goal?
Currently the recidivism rate is 70%. Meaning 7 out of 10 inmates return to crime. Recidivism is not bases solely on the return of inmates to prison but to crime and criminal behavior that leads to incarceration, subsequently re-arrest. Social scientists and others who monitor these stats have determined that crime and incarceration are not parallel. There is no direct relationship between the two. In fact according to Dr. James Austin of the JFA Institute, as it concerns DC inmates who are overseen by the USPC, in his findings, when asked to conduct a study at the request of the USPC to determine if the criteria it is using to parole DC inmates were valid. He concluded these criteria’s are significant as they 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 these programs were having on recidivism rates, for DC inmates. The major findings were:
(1) DC prisoners released in 2002 who had been sentenced under the DC code (1987 Good Time Credit Act) as compared to other state prisoners had much longer sentences and served longer sentences.
(2) Consistent with other studies, the amount of time imprisoned (length of stay) is “not” associated with rates of recidivism.
(3) Most of the risk factors being used by the Commissions to assess risk are “not” good predictors of “recidivism”.
(4) An alternative risk instrument that relies on the conduct of the prisoner and programs he of she has completed while in the BOP does a better job of assessing the prisoners risk level.
(5) The Commission is also using factors (crime severity and prior records) that are not related to recidivism that are being used to significantly extend the period of imprisonment

Dr. Austin concluded his testimony to Congress by making recommendations, based on his findings. Recommendations that have not been fully applied. Some of these recommendations include:
(1) Changing the guidelines and implement a new risk instrument that takes into account the prisoner’s conduct while incarcerated (dynamic factors)
(2) Alter the current practice of extending parole eligibility dates based solely on the 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.
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 and earlier stage of the sentence, awarding of good-time credits for prisoners who complete rehabilitative programs and allow for the period of the parole supervision to be reduced based on good conduct. Given that dynamic factors related to prisoners completions 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.

He concluded his testimony by stating that the USPC Commissioner, BOP, DC sentencing Commissions, DC Criminal Justice Council and the US Attorney and the Community Supervisor of Offenders Agency would take part in the changing and implementing his findings. Unfortunately, many DC prisoners are still waiting for this study conducted circa 2007 to be implemented.

In order to determine if a new, improved, method of addressing recidivism, and offenders need, there needs to be a comparison and critique of what is currently in place, or by what came before it. If we were to change the name of the H.R 759 and read it to a group of DC inmates they would think that the DC regulations are what’s being referred to. They both share the same goal and purpose.

The H.R 759 bill is aimed at reducing recidivism (possibly so), lower the crime rate (never going to happen; as there are no concrete findings that support the claim that incarceration reduces crime), and reduce to amount of money being spent on federal prisons/prisoners (will happen without doubt). The question now is how will oversee DC’s inmates that have are allowed the same benefits and who, if applied, will effect the same same end results. Most importantly, reduce the amount of money spent on federal prisons/prisoners.

DC’s 1987 regulations are already enacted, and don’t need to be voted on. It merely needs to be implemented for those whom benefit from its application. An example would be my case.

As a young man I had my run-ins with the law. At 17 I was charged and tried, as an adult, for second degree murder. I was ultimately sentenced to 20 years to life. During the early years of my incarceration I served time with adult offenders, although I was a juvenile. Despite these obstacles I got my GED the first year of being in Lorton. Afterwards I began attending the Lorton Prison College Program, through UDC. I majored in Urban Studies. I attended UDC until I was one day selected to be shipped to a DC contract prison, Sussex II State Prison in Waverly Va.

Sussex II was a 23 and 1 prison. Meaning the entire prison was segregation. I was medium custody and due to the length of time I was serving I was automatically selected to be house in a maximum security prison. There were many DC inmates there, who had not committed any disciplinary infractions, house in segregation, as the entire prison operated as such. While there I began to teach myself Spanish. After suffering like this for a year, with no end in sight, I was told to pack up. I was next sent to Florence AZ, a CCA prison.

While at this institution I did not let the distance and unique housing situation deter me from programming. I got my barbering license along with a host of other programs. I facilitated a group call Concern Offenders for Youth Awareness (COYA). This program was similar to the scared straight programs that were popular in those days. My ability to relate to the youth earned me high accolades from the Maricopa County Superior Court Youth Probation Division. From were I received high praises and much gratitude. I had also began to learn Arabic, as I had become fluent in Spanish by that time. One night I was woken up and put on a bus with 40 other DC inmates. Off to another prison. This time it would be a federal prison, Edgefield SC.

While in Edgefield I participated in the programs offered there. I also, for two years, facilitated a class called The Quality of Life, a class endorsed by the Warden of the prison. It eventually became a pre-release requirement for the inmate population. After two years I was sent to open another prison. USP Lee County.

At Lee County I got my certification in small home improvement and carpentry. My points lowered, after 5 years, and I was sent to FCI Petersburg. While in Petersburg I got my certification in electrical wiring, and worked as a barber. After spending two years here I signed up for the Life Connection Program, a faith based program introduced to the federal system by then President, George W Bush.

The LCP, an 18 month,over 4500 contact hours of programming, focused on re-entry needs. I graduated valedictorian. After graduation I transferred, to be closer to home, as my initial parole hearing was coming up.

I arrived at FCI McKean and had my first hearing. At this hearing I was denied and given a 3 year set off. One of the reasons, needs more time to program. Unbelievable! I had spent 17 years programming and excelling yet I was told I needed to do more programming. I had taken victim impact classes, anger management classes, and other cognitive behavior courses. Courses needed to address the bad choices I had made as a juvenile.

In light of the 3 year set off, I stayed the course and continued programming. I designed a non profit program called The Reconstruction Program. A program targeting high-risk and at-risk youth and youthful offenders. I also began co-facilitating the Victim Impact class with Dr. Tony Gaskew, Criminal Justice Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. I also lead a class called Thinking for a Change. All done while teaching and tutoring Spanish GED, ESL and Spanish as a Second Language.

I was part of the re-entry team. Through this team we formulated a mentoring program targeting younger offenders who had needed extra help in the area of education. We also started a Life Coaching group and through that group I was able to help bring in outside support. An official Life Coaching course through the Institute for Life Coach Training was instituted in the prison. The founder, Dr. Patrick Williams, would become not only my mentor but a good friend. I also applied to an outside school to become a certified Substance Abuse and Alcohol Technician. I also got my Certified Personal Training certification. These two achievements were paid for out of my own money.

Three year later, 2013, I had a second hearing. I went to this hearing with the Associate Warden of Programs as my staff representative. She spoke on my behalf and supported my release. My unit team also spoke on my behalf. My family, friends, and outside supports all sent letters of support. I had a release plan, money saved, two jobs lined up and higher education opportunities. The hearing examiner recommended parole. Everyone thought it was a sure shot. The final decision was a set-off of five (5) more years. The reason. I was not deemed fit for release and my release would endanger the community. The once again claimed I had on-going criminal behavior. I have not had a write up in over 20 years.

What an incredible story. This is my story. The story of a guy that entered prison a 17 years old, who fought against the odds to not become a prison statistic, yet unable to make parole. The people who this new bill, H.R. 759, will apply to may not have half of what I have, in terms of programs and skills. One the system no longer offer the classes that I was able to take many years ago; before the system became all punitive. Yet, they will be released sooner.

My story is not the story of why we need to be tougher with sentencing. Or why we should not let guys out of prison early, violent or non-violent. This is not the story of why there needs to be a tougher enforcement of mandatory minimum sentences. It is the story of a man who has done his time, in fact more than the time of the sentencing courts. 20 years to Life with the possibility of parole if these conditions are meet; you obey the rules and remain incident free, you have proven to have made steps to turn your life around, make better decisions, and remain crime free. That is what the assumption is when dealing with sentences such as mine. Although I have fulfilled more than what would be normally required I was given more time to spend in prison. In a system that is looking for ways to kick people out in order to cut cost. What is the irony in that?

Why is this story important and significant? As the federal government look for way to cut costs, reduce crime and recidivism there are a lot of guys, such as myself, who have served their sentences, participated in programs, and are eligible for release yet the USPC Commissioner will not grant them parole. Citing non-factual reason to justify doing so.

Tax-payers are paying $320,000 for me to stay in prison longer. I am sure most members of society would say that I would be a good candidate for release. There is no telling what will happen at the next hearing. I don’t think I can top what I have done thus far. So who knows when I will be deemed suitable by the USPC Commissioner. What a waste of money. I am steady fighting, to no avail but I am fighting. Would someone make sense of it.

It is important that as lawmakers propose new bills that they ensure the ones that are in effect are being applied. It makes sense to put to use that which is already on the books. It also helps set the foundation of success for newly proposed prison reform bills. It is easier to measure success and failures along the way, too.

By all means this newly proposed bill along with the other sentencing reform polices going into effect is a good thing. There are going to be a lot of people who will appreciate the changes. I do believe that the penal system, often referred to as draconian, needs reform. I just hope that along the way DC and federal inmates get what they each have coming to them, in terms of these reforms; what the law grants them is what needs to be adhered to by policy makers. The law provides hope for many and has to be practical on all levels. Not just as a means for behavior modification.

Hopefully things will change for the better for guys such as myself and others. It has been a long time coming but change seems to be on the horizon. Let’s hope that as the pendulum seems to have, once again, swung to the side or rehabilitation that the powers to be make the right proposals so that when the pendulum swings back to punishment, as it always does, the penal reforms that are in place now will not be cut or overlooked. As it seems to be the case with DC’ prisoners.

Note: This article was taken of the blog site of Talib Shakir, avoicefromtheinside.wordpress.com. (with permission)

About Talib

Talib Shakir is a DC prisoner that has been incarcerated 23 years now. Although his sentence was 20 years to life he will have served 8 additional years before his next hearing, 2018. That is if he does not get that parole set off overturned. He is working on that now. He maintains a blog site, through his family, called A Voice From the Inside
(avoicefromtheinside.wordpress.com) You can visit him there to learn more about what him. You can also visit the site.

Talib also has specialize training as a Life Coach with a focus in relationship coaching. He has used his skills to set up programs within the institution to help other offenders. Some who are soon to be released, and others as they adjust to spending the rest of their lives in prison, lifers.

To learn more about his affiliation with the coaching world you can look up Coaching the Global Village, Founded by Dr. Patrick Williams MCC, BCC. Dr. Williams also is the founder, who now serves as the dean of training, for the Institute of Life Coach Training. Now owned by Dr. Ellen Ritter. Click on Reconstruction Program to learn more about the program he designed.

Along with coaching he facilitates other pre-release class, victim impact classes, and teaches GED Spanish (a language he taught himself, along with Arabic and now Portuguese), English as a Second Language (ESL) and Spanish as a second language. He also serves as a motivational speaker and speaks often at different institutional events.

He story is one that needs to be shared with others as when the discussion of penal reform arise. There is more to the story than we may commonly hear. Sometimes it is best to hear it from those that are on the inside. There view is just as relevant as the view of others.

One of the biggest challenges that we face on the inside is establishing a relationship between us and the powers that be. I think that there is a lot of reluctance when it comes to that. I have seen a shift in the prison system in the last 20 years. I have seen it shift from being more rehabilitative to punitive to now back to rehabilitative, and that is only because of financial strains. What I find to be the most effective is when there is a collaboration of outside supporters and the prisoners. It creates a sense of value and worth amongst the men. I will relate to you my inside-out experience so that you will have a better idea as to what i mean by that.
As a participant of a program called Inside-Out, where 15 inmates spent a semester together and discussed the Criminal Justice System, I can say that lives where transformed.  What was ironic and hard to believe was that the 15 men that were involved came from all types of backgrounds, as well as the students. This place is located in rural northeast PA. and many of these students had never had any direct interaction with African Americans and Hispanics and they couldn’t really relate to the White guys in the class because of class differences. So it was a unique bunch. No one had faith that the inmates would really excel and as a result they set the bar low for us. Well I can say that not only did the inmates exceed those expectation they created a culture that opened the door for other programs to develop. This was the first time ever that this program was done in a Federal Institution so it was a trial run.
The way that the classes were set up it allowed other staff members and guards to see the guys in a different light, as intelligent and enlightened human beings. We shattered many myths that are associated with being an inmate. Everyone of us, with the exception of 2 guys, finished ahead of the outside students and that was not what was expected.
We, the inmates, gathered twice a week and discussed issues such as race, religion and politics and were able to come up with rational ideas and solutions to some of the problems that surround these issues. Now this may seem like something that students do on a normal basis. This is not something that you find in prison. This was a very diverse group of inmates. There were Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Atheists, and even guys that have some very strong racial views. Yet education was able to bring them together. Now this is the tripped out part. We used the book by Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow” as the course book.
It was interesting to see that all the guys were more concerned about education and trying to really take all that they could from that experience. In that class there were guys that had sentences that ranged from natural life to a year, one guy has 213 years. It was the idea of being educated that allowed them/us to escape the reality of being incarcerated, it allowed us to actually feel that we were part of the greater society. I believe that education is the equalizer and that if many of the guys, with that knowledge and understanding, could do it over again that is the area that they would focus more on.
As we discuss ways to fill in the gaps to see this goal and vision through, I would say that there has to be a way to make the outcome which we desire visible to others.  Incarceration is one of those ” I believe it when I see it” deals.  Because the society has been made to feel threatened and afraid of those that have fallen to the penal system, the only way to combat that is to change that view. One of the hardest things to do, as most think, is complete a college education. This is something that most people are intimated by, yet something that most inmates want. I hate to use these terms but you have to involve those that have been here and have made it so that they can become more involved and active in addressing these needs.
In regards to networking and infrastructure i suggest that something is established that will allow inmates to obtain a higher education upon release if they are committed to change and advocating the need for better communications and resources. This is one way that outside organizations, philanthropist, and policy makers can get involved. Sure there are going to be risks, which is why this would have to be a well thought out process and something would have to be in place to accept these participants. I am sure that there are a number of methods that can be used to determine who fits the criteria.
One of the sad things about this idea is that some universities don’t allow ex felons to attend their schools.  So this can be a thing that dampers and hinders ex felons from furthering their education and actually feeling as if they are part of “the system.” If I have been made to feel as an outcast for the most of my life and come to a point where I want an education but I am told no because I am an ex felon what do you think will happen to this person’s self esteem?  They no longer will feel as if they are part of “the system” and society aside from a penal number.
These are some of the challenges that one face from this side, myself included. This is a big concern of mine. How am I going to be able to get a college education so that I can further my career and life without the stuff that comes with being an ex felon as I do so.  How can this be addressed?  So there has to be something in place that will allow for those who have proven themselves dedicated to the cause, for a lack of better words.
I think that a discussion on this topic is a good and a big step in the right direction.   The discussion must involve people (felons, and I hate that word, so I will say incarcerated people) who can articulate and share the vision  as it concerns them and the greater society.
This is something that I have dedicated and committed myself to and I want to be the best example possible to show that with a little faith and trust the very things that you envision can come to pass.

Two ex-inmates are trying to bring higher education to the incarcerated, one maximum security facility at a time

BY THE CRIME REPORT

This article originally appeared on The Crime Report, the nation’s largest criminal justice news source.

At the height of the tough-on-crime era in the mid-1990s, prisoners in New York State seeking access to college-level courses were dealt a one-two punch that seemed to deliver a crushing blow to inmate higher education.

When then-President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994, he revoked inmate access to federal Pell grants. In 1995, New York Governor George Pataki followed suit, eliminating Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) funding for prisoners in the state.

For Kathy Boudin, at the time an inmate of the maximum security Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, it seemed like college programs “disappeared overnight.”

“When college was removed, instead of having a line of people walking to school, we had people sitting up in the day rooms playing cards, playing dominoes, getting in fights,” said Boudin, now the director of the Columbia University School of Social Work’s Criminal Justice Initiative.

Boudin — a former member of the counterrevolutionary group Weather Underground who served 22 years for her role in an armored truck heist that left three dead — and other inmates were determined to complement the prison’s GED program with a college education.

After the program’s launch in 1997, similar initiatives were started by New York’s Sing Sing prison and Bard College. Their successful struggle ultimately brought college back to a dozen prisons throughout New York, and helped form the backbone of a decade’s worth of inmate education advocacy. Today, there are programs that bring college to prison in half a dozen states.

Boudin and Cheryl Wilkins, also a former inmate at Bedford Hills and the Criminal Justice Initiative’s Associate Director, spoke to a group of graduate students and faculty at New York University on Wednesday night about their experiences creating an inmate college program after the Pell and TAP grants were revoked.

From the start, it was apparent that their movement would have its detractors.

Read full article here

The Reconstruct Program is designed to introduce productive principles and provide realist solutions to help reconstruct the lives of people who may be at risk of incarceration, juvenile delinquency, and substance abuse issues etc.  We achieve this by introducing what is called ” principles of change“.  These guiding principles were developed by Talib , who went to prison at the age of 17 for a period over 20 years, to be used by anyone who wants to create positive change in their lives.  It was during this time that he took every opportunity to re-evaluate his life and turn it around for the better.  He came to understand what it took for someone to break the cycle of violence, crime and recidivism.   These are principles that he teaches now and has done so for the better part of 20 years.  Through his work he has been recognized by many to be a motivational coach and role model, as well as a success story of positive change.

During his stay in prison Talib has organized and taught various classes using these same principles.  He has worked with out-reach groups and at-risk teens and youth through programs commonly known as “scared straight programs.”  What he realized was that once a person has reached that point there wasn’t any scaring them straight.  So he tried another approach that proved to be more successful.  This approach was to abandon the trend of rebuking and use the methods of relating.  He demonstrated to the youth that he could relate by using his own personal experiences to educate about dangers of poor decision making.

The core of the program is based on 3 simple, yet profound principles.

•1 realize that there is a problem

•2 choose to address the problem

•3 learn to build healthy and positive relationships.

These seem simple but there are many people from all walks of life that suffer as a result of not having these 3 simple principles present in their lives.   This mostly is due to emotional intelligence.  It is hard to address certain issues when one has yet to come to understand how to identify the emotions that are attached to certain behaviors.

The goal of the Reconstruct Program is to reinforce the idea that people can ‘choose’ to be productive regardless of race, social and economical backgrounds.  The mission is to use these ideas and principles to find solutions to the growing problems of crime, alcohol and substance abuse, violence, and incarceration.  We aim to help participants move from an unhealthy state of being to a productive and healthy lifestyle.  That is the goal, amongst others, of the Reconstruct Program.

inmate mentoring program. what are your thoughts? do you think that inmates can serve as role models and mentors for the youth and others that may suffer from what they have experienced? there are a number of inmates who are serving long sentences and have come to a point where they wish to give back to the community. when one is sentenced to a term of imprisonment the idea is to make amends for the crimes and pay a debt back to the society, yet when inmates or ex offenders try to give back to the community and make this amends they are often hindered from doing so. irony at its best. incarceration is not the amends that is implied. that time serves as a time to gain the insight and make the changes that one needs in order to give back to the community. i think that a inmate mentoring program is a good tool to use to advert the influx of juveniles coming to prison. the main idea of Michelle Alexander book is to come up with ways to stop or at the least slow down what is happening in terms of mass incarceration. what better way to get the real word out than to use the voices of those who can better explain the issues that often leads to incarceration. it works two ways. one it gives these inmates a feeling of purpose and fulfillment, something that many of them are not use to. it gives them the chance to really pay back the society by mentoring someone one on the realties of the life of crime and where/what it leads to. and at the same time it saves someone else’s life. let me hear your thoughts!