On February 29, the ICCA (International Corrections and Prisons Association) held a Public Policy Forum in Washington, D.C. to discuss current trends and pending legislation impacting community corrections. The forum featured community and criminal justice leaders from both private and public sectors, including Mr. Cleveland Bell, the executive director at Riverside House in Miami. One key piece of legislation discussed at the forum was The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The Act is critical for prison reform in America today. By reducing certain mandatory minimum sentences and providing reentry programming, the bill will have over-reaching benefits for individuals that are incarcerated, their families, and the communities at large. The bill will positively impact everyone involved, and five key components highlighted at the forum show how:
- It’s Bi-Partisan.
The bill is bi-partisan, meaning it should move forward without much resistance by one party or another. This is great news for everyone involved, for the individual, for their families, and for the communities at large. Individuals will be getting proper attention they need during prison and after being released, which in the long run will reduce the chances of recidivism, and keep crime rates lower.
- Focuses on Non-Violent Drug Offenders.
The importance of the bill cannot be overemphasized due to its focus on non-violent drug offenders. To be clear, the crimes these individuals commit are drug-related and non-violent. The bill’s goal is to reduce the prison population, which is already at over 30% capacity. The idea is to offer support to these individuals in the last year of their sentence by providing them with a pipeline of services that allows them to have successful re-entry into their communities and therefore, reducing their chances of recidivism. According to the Bureau of Justice, 67.8 percent of released prisoners were re-arrested within 3 years of release, and within five years of release, 76.6 percent of were re-arrested. Even more distressing, the prison population in America has increased by 6 times in four decades. This figure can be attributed in large part by long, mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. These statistics are staggering and the repercussions cannot be stressed enough. Not only are the incarcerated individuals affected, but their families are torn apart by having fathers and mothers in and out of prison.
- Benefits the Community.
Communities are also far from immune to the consequences of the costly, ineffective prison system we see today. The bill would benefit the community because it would rehabilitate non-violent drug offenders so that when released they will have the tools needed to have a successful reentry instead of reverting to drugs or other crimes that ultimately harm the community. Under the bill, these individuals would get treatment for their drug problems and the proper guidance. The bill would ensure the communities are safer and more productive in the long run.
- Encourages the Individual’s Participation in Their Own Rehab (i.e. through “prison jobs”)
Another purpose The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act serves is reducing mandatory minimum sentences and providing reentry programming. It encourages participation in recidivism reduction programs and productive activities, like prison jobs. The goal is to get individuals involved and give them responsibility prior to a halfway house like Riverside House. Essentially, they would be getting involved in their own rehab. For example, At Riverside House, they would be expected to find and maintain a job, so if they are already working at a job during prison they will have a much easier transition into the workforce once released into the community.
- Cuts Costs.
Another issue at stake is the monetary cost of keeping individuals in prison. It costs $100,000 per bed to build a new prison and since the prison system is already over budget and over capacity, building new prisons simply isn’t an option. Currently federal prison spending is around $7 billion, a staggering number which has grown at more than twice the rate of the rest of the Department of Justice. With this bill and several others working together, the federal prison population should decrease by 60,000 and save taxpayers over $5 billion over the next decade.
Riverside House’s Residential Reentry program assists men and women in making a successful transition from prison to the community. We offer a variety of programs to accomplish this transition, emphasizing employment, life skills, substance abuse counseling, and family reunification. The executive director, Mr. Cleveland Bell is a keen advocate for our clients, and he won’t stop pushing for prison justice and reform even after this bill passes in Washington.
Recidivism. (2014, June 17). Retrieved March 11, 2016 from http://www.nij.gov/topics/corrections/recidivism/pages/welcome.aspx
Watts, J. (2016, January 26). Prisons are full of low-level offenders. It’s time to rethink federal sentencing laws. Retrieved March 16, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/01/26/prisons-are-full-of-low-level-offenders-its-time-to-rethink-our-sentencing-laws/