Sunday, March 30, 2014

Halfway Back to Society

Preventing recidivism should, of course, be a central goal of any correctional system. But too many halfway houses are understaffed, poorly supervised and generally ill prepared to do that job, and as a result the men and women who pass through them often leave them no better off

On March 24, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. took a step in the right direction by announcing new requirements for federally financed halfway houses — the most recent example of his aggressive push for reform across the criminal justice system.

Last August, Mr. Holder issued new guidelines advising federal prosecutors not to pursue the most severe charges against low-level drug offenders. He has supported congressional legislation that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes. And he has called on states to repeal laws that prevent people from voting even after they have been released from prison — an outdated and unjust punishment that serves only as another obstacle to successful re-entry. 

These are all smart and worthy reforms, but many depend on the cooperation of other government officials or legislative bodies. In contrast, Mr. Holder has the power to issue the new halfway-house regulations and put them into effect.
Well, when you spend 5.5 years bungling, dropping, losing and ignoring every major white-collar criminal case in the country (and earning yourself the moniker "the worst Attorney General ever") I guess reforming criminal justice is a way to save your legacy, such as it is.

But as usual, the devil is in the detes.
Starting in early 2015, halfway houses must provide more rigorous and standardized cognitive-behavioral treatment for inmates with mental health or substance abuse issues, both of which are rampant in prison populations. 

They will have to give inmates more assistance in seeking employment, for example, by giving them cellphones and public transportation vouchers. 

The new requirements also expand the use of electronic monitoring devices like ankle bracelets, allowing more inmates to serve out their sentences at home, which can hasten their readjustment to the outside world.
Or allow Big Brother to exert more control, via the digital panopticon, than good old fashioned razor wire and steel bars wold allow (and more cheaply). In other words, outfitting these inmates with more electronic monitoring can be seen as more than just "hastening their adjustment to the outside world." It's also hastening the growth of our surveillance society.

The NYT editorial board does, however, eventually stumble into the truth.
Perhaps an even better approach is to send fewer low-risk offenders to prison in the first place. Well-run halfway houses and other forms of community-based supervision should be the first choice for many convicted of nonviolent crimes.
In other words, stop sending people to prison who don't belong in prison in the first place. Non-violent, low-level drug offenders should be receiving the benefit of programs designed as alternatives to incarceration long before they actually go to incarceration. 

Halfway Houses are an excellent, underfunded, long-overlooked way to help stop the recidivism rates for those incarcerated. But a better alternative might be sentencing reform. The fact remains we simply have far too many people in prison who don't belong in prison.

1 comment:

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