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Kiriakou writes: "The House of Representatives this week passed a bipartisan criminal justice reform measure called the First Step Act by an overwhelming majority of 360-59."

John Kiriakou. (photo: The Washington Post)
John Kiriakou. (photo: The Washington Post)


In Support of the First Step Act

By John Kiriakou, Reader Supported News

26 May 18

 

he House of Representatives this week passed a bipartisan criminal justice reform measure called the First Step Act by an overwhelming majority of 360-59. The bill was sponsored by Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Doug Collins (R-Ga.) It has the support of the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice, the activist group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and even presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, has already said that the bill is “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

What we need right now is real sentencing reform. We don’t need half measures. We need reforms that will bring us in line with other “progressive” democracies. I’m a realist. I know that’s not going to happen. There will never be a consensus in Congress over true reform. Maybe if we’re really lucky — someday — we’ll be able to do away with the draconian sentences that we have for nonviolent drug crimes. That’ll be a start. But we’re not there yet.

The First Step Act is not sentencing reform. It is, however, a giant leap in the right direction. It earmarks $250 million to be spent over five years on education and vocational training and on mental health care in federal prisons, in an effort to reduce recidivism. It expands the number of days that a prisoner would be eligible to spend in a halfway house or home confinement near the end of his prison sentence. It would ban the shackling of female prisoners during childbirth. And it would require that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) place prisoners in facilities within 500 miles of their families. These aren’t radical perks. These at least ought to be basic human rights. But they’re not. And the bill would be in stark contrast to the realities of federal prison today.

First, there is simply no educational or vocational training in federal prisons. Once upon a time, a prisoner might be trained to do electrical work, plumbing, small engine repair, or even factory work, but today there is literally no money in the federal budget for such a program, despite the fact that the BOP accounts for fully one-quarter of the Justice Department’s budget.

Second, although federal law calls for prisoners to earn 15 percent of the length of their sentence off for good behavior, the BOP has always calculated “good behavior time” differently. In the end, prisoners actually get 13.5 percent good behavior time. Furthermore, prisoners are technically eligible for up to 12 months of halfway house time and either 10 percent of the length of their sentence or 90 days, whichever is shorter, for home confinement or house arrest. In reality, though, you could count on one hand the number of federal prisoners who are given more than six months of halfway house time.

That’s a shame. There’s an institutional desire for punishment at the Justice Department and in Congress. There is little stomach or tolerance for “rehabilitation” or anything else that meets the Republican definition of being “soft on crime.” What halfway house time is supposed to do is to give a prisoner nearing the end of his sentence the opportunity to find a job, transition back into society, and become a contributing member of that society. The prisoner pays 25 percent of his gross pay as “rent” for his halfway house bed, and he is then (theoretically) able to put food on the table and care financially for his family.

But it doesn’t work that way. Halfway house time is somehow seen in Washington as a “reward.” And why should criminals get a reward? It’s not a reward, though. It is what an enlightened government ought to do to help put a citizen on his feet and to help ensure that he doesn’t return to a life of crime. There’s no downside.

The House’s work on the First Step Act is done. President Trump has said that he would sign the bill into law. Mitch McConnell, though, doesn’t have control of his own caucus. Senate Democrats are united in their support for the bill. The Republican caucus is split. In raw numbers, there are more than enough votes to pass the bill into law. But Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), one of the most extreme right-wing members of that body, is having none of it. Because of Cotton’s opposition, and the opposition of several other southern conservatives, McConnell can’t call the bill to a vote. Cotton won’t even allow a vote in the Judiciary Committee. And because of that, the bill is dead. It’s the third time in the past six years that a popular bipartisan prison reform bill will die in the Senate.

There’s no good news here. Because our elected officials can’t get their collective act together, no incarcerated Americans will catch a break. More importantly, recidivism will remain at one of the highest rates in the industrialized world. If a person goes to prison, does his entire stretch with little chance of meaningful time off for good behavior, has no education or job skills, and no hope for a job when he’s released, what does he do? He goes right back into a life of crime.

Congressional inaction makes the country less safe. And that’s on Tom Cotton.



John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act – a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration's torture program.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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+47 # PCPrincess 2018-05-26 15:29
John - Would you do us the honor of placing this article as an editorial in every major paper in Arkansas, please? We here at RSN are already on board. We, who do not live in Arkansas can do nothing to remove that bastard from office. Please - help us help everyone.
 
 
+33 # REDPILLED 2018-05-26 18:36
The Prison-Industri al Complex contributes too much $$$ to the corrupt Congress for a majority of those greedheads to care about the incarcerated and their families.

As with wars, as long as profits are to be made and shared with "lawmakers" (ha!), prison reform is a pipe dream.
 
 
+4 # Robbee 2018-05-27 21:37
Quoting REDPILLED 2018-05-26 18:36:
The Prison-Industrial Complex contributes too much $$$ to the corrupt Congress for a majority of those greedheads to care about the incarcerated and their families.

- i buy that and so i'm amazed that "the First Step Act (passed) by an overwhelming majority of 360-59" - EVIDENTLY INCLUDING A HUGE MAJORITY OF REPUKES

is private incarceration for profit, down south, so unpopular among voters? that A HUGE MAJORITY OF repuke disreps can afford to thumb their noses at private prisons?

and this is supposed to help repukes keep their senate majority?

worlds collide? what gives?

in any case, dems have political hay to bale from this, that -

1) voters need to be told how much prisons donate to what candidates for election in 2018!

2) dems, in both houses of congress, ought to propose bills to outlaw private prisons!

- my 2 cents!
 
 
+11 # tedrey 2018-05-26 19:14
The rules of the House and the Senate are revised by the senior members every election. They are first scrutinized to assure that measures leading to control and immunity of senior members remain in full force. Next, provisions chafing to Senators or Congressmen in general are removed or and ones more congenial to them are substituted. Finally an assiduous search is made for any trace of efficiency, economy, equality, public interest, or common sense that can be expunged, and it is.

Thus the most egregious rules of past Congresses are retained and strengthened for future ones, and those which threaten to prove beneficial are firmly weeded out.

There is no other way to explain it.
 
 
+14 # economagic 2018-05-26 19:57
"There’s an institutional desire for punishment at the Justice Department and in Congress. There is little stomach or tolerance for 'rehabilitation ' or anything else that meets the Republican definition of being 'soft on crime.' . . . Because of Cotton’s opposition, and the opposition of several other southern conservatives, McConnell can’t call the bill to a vote."

All of the anti-democratic forces mentioned by Mr. Kiriakou are genuine. In addition, in this country since 1948, the meaning of the term "conservatism" has shifted to resemble not at all its historical meanings, originating in the struggles between Parliament and the Crown in 17th-century England.

The "Dixiecrat" rebellion of 1948, led by Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, paved the way for Nixon's "Southern strategy" in 1968 and the Republican takeover of the formerly "Solid (Democratic) South," itself a remnant of hatred for Republican President Abraham Lincoln. That "remnant" is still alive and ill today.

In addition, modern conservatism has another equally vile component also derived in part from the culture of the former Confederacy. I had seen it in Oklahoma, where I lived for most of my first 54 years, but I only came to understand it after moving to NC in the year 2000. A lot of people who identify as "conservative," especially in the South, would rather deprive a hundred people of their birthrights than see one "poor" slob get one red cent for which s/he had not already paid a dime.
 
 
+7 # tomtom 2018-05-27 08:29
Most Americans have broken a law; they just weren't caught. Perhaps that border wall is, subcontiously, incarcerating everyone. Like Gaza, one needs permission to leave. Dating and marriage are, merely, conjugal visits. Thanks John, I didn't know I was sick, until you told me. Ha!
 
 
+4 # PABLO DIABLO 2018-05-27 14:19
Give Tom Cotton one year in prison for obstruction of justice. Get rid of victimless crime (drug possession, pissing in public, prostitution, etc,) altogether.
 
 
+3 # Allears 2018-05-28 09:39
Shackling of women during childbirth? what new torture is this? How Handmaidenish and so indicative of the anti-humanistic underpinnings of the USA. Do they shackle the baby as soon as the cord is cut?
 
 
0 # economagic 2018-05-29 20:56
"New torture"? How long has it been since you read the news, even the MSM?
 

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