Letter to Editor or Editorial Submission – What a Monster we Have Created! 2/19/19
Letter to Editor or Editorial Submission – What a Monster we Have Created! 3/5/19 = sent it out again. PUBLISHED in 7 papers that I know of. 7/18/19 Sent out again.
We write to express our long-held concerns about one aspect of our criminal justice system which is causing so much harm to individuals, and tremendous cost to the taxpayers … needlessly: our Probation and Parole systems. On any given day, there are about 4.3 million Americans on one or the other, with most being on probation.
There is a distinction: Probation is handed down by the judge at trial. It may be in lieu of jail time or in combination with some jail time. The judge will specify restrictions on the offender’s activities during the probationary period. Parole is granted by a parole board, after the offender has served some—or perhaps a lot of—time. The parole board may consider factors such as the offender’s behavior in prison and level of rehabilitation, and let him or her out early. The parole board can also specify restrictions on the person’s activities while on parole.
However, our concerns are valid regarding both systems, referred to herein as supervised release.
Yes, there is much chatter these days about prison reform, but we suggest to you that supervised release needs major reforms: primarily, far less use! We, and other “experts”, believe that at least about 3.5 million of the 4.2 million people on supervised release need not be there at all! Many more can be, and should be, flowed out of the system much sooner than they are.
Probationary sentences more than a year are absurd, yet there are countless people with 3, 5, 10 or more years of probation! In our small state of Delaware, there are about 17,000 people on probation, more than 3 times the prison population.
While reforms to the system suggested recently by Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings would improve the system, none of them is yet law, and addressing our Mass Probation = Revolving Door problem would improve it more quickly and more dramatically than any other change!
The system is designed more to trip people up, than to lift them up. The statistics bear this out as a high percentage of probationers end up back in prison within a year of their release, often for behavior that would not be a crime if they were not on probation. We spend vast sums of taxpayer money on programs that do little other than perpetuate the need for more such programs. The people supplying the programs get rich while society has to deal with all of the social problems caused by locking people away from the families who depend on them for support.
Reforming these systems is potentially the fastest and the best way to actually reduce mass incarceration! The proverbial “revolving door” of prisons is spinning much faster than most folks realize. Two thirds of the people entering prison every year are being sent there for violation probation or parole. The vast majority of them have committed no new crime [ i.e. they were 10 minutes late for curfew! These are called “technical violations”], or they have a drug problem. In New York state, for example, between 2014 and 2018, the percentage of people held on technical violations of parole increased by 15 percent, even as the overall jail population declined by 21 percent.T
The system as it operates now is set up simply to keep the monster fed, keep the revolving door spinning! Probationers receive little if any help finding jobs that pay a living wage from their probation officer, most of whom have too high of a case load to provide such help even if it was available.
This system is callous and cruel, and serves nobody well except the companies selling rehab programs to federal and state corrections systems.
Studies show that our supervised release programs drive recidivism, rather than reduce it! READ, for example: http://www.citizensforcriminaljustice.net/the-problem-with-parole-theres-a-huge-need-for-probation-and-parole-reforms-kra/ The study we reference here, by Columbia University’s Justice Lab study calls on the New York Legislature to do a lot more. It recommends that the state adopt several common-sense reforms, most of which have already shown promise in other states. These include: adopting a system of graduated sanctions and rewards, instead of automatically dumping people into jail for minor infractions; capping jail terms for minor parole violations; requiring a judicial hearing before parole officers can jail people accused of technical violations; shortening parole terms for people who stay out of trouble for specified periods of time; and using the savings reaped from cutting the prison population to expand education, substance abuse and housing opportunities for parolees, who need considerably more help than they’re getting to forge stable lives in their communities. EVERY state should follow this lead and drastically revise its “supervised release” programs.
Do what works to reduce recidivism. Look at this shocking statistic: In 2016, Illinois saw 71,551 new convictions; of those, 70,610, or 89 percent, were reoffenders headed back to prison. The state predicted that it will cost Illinois taxpayers more than $13 billion over the next five years if nothing is done to curtail recidivism. READ Illinois Calculates the High Costs of Recidivism = http://www.citizensforcriminaljustice.net/illinois-calculates-the-high-costs-of-recidivism/
We can’t reform the system if we can’t reform the individual. We ask you this: “Johnny” has been released from prison and is on probation. He has managed to get a job, has a car, and doing ok …. but he goofed and tested as a “dirty urine” because he had smoked a joint … BAM! They violate his probation and lock him up for two years. He loses his job and his car. He has, like millions of Americans, already completed prison so called “drug treatment” programs [they are a JOKE}, yet here he is again. What good does it do him or society to imprison him?! Clearly, none!
Here is the major problem, THE reason why that revolving door is making us dizzy: for every 1 person arrested, 29 people benefit financially. This includes prison personnel, prosecutors, probation and parole officers, etc. As a result, the unions representing them, private prisons, the thousands of contractors who supply prisons, and others spend hundreds of millions of dollars opposing needed changes to the system. It is simply job preservation, with millions “working” in a way which does nothing to increase public safety and wastes your hard-earned tax money!
We know whereof we speak because we, like too many others, get phone calls and emails every day – yes, every day – about someone being harmed – locked up – because they violated probation or parole. The desperate family members who contact us about their loved ones also bear a burden and pay a heavy price, as they deal with the situation which they know makes no sense, helps nobody, and is truly unjust!
Contact your lawmakers and express you concern about this huge problem with American “criminal justice”!
Ken Abraham, former Deputy Attorney General, founder of Citizens for Criminal JUSTICE, Dover, DE, 302-423-4067
Stephen Hampton, Esq, Grady and Hampton, Dover, DE, 302-678-1265
I get lots of letters published, and ghost write for others. The keys to getting your Letter published are:
1. Keep it to 250 words or fewer.
2. Do not make it about “poor little old me”. Describe the problem as one which not only affects the individual, but is a senseless or ineffective measure, policy, or law which also harms communities and society. For example, with reentry, the obstacles make it unnecessarily difficult for the individual, but also harm society by making it hard to become productive, spending money and paying taxes in the community, and they cause increased recidivism = increased crime.
3. Speak from your heart.
4. Google any facts you are not sure about.
5. Do not name-call.
Do what works: Write that Letter! 🙂
Letter to Editor – sign name, town, state, and your phone number (they often call to verify that you sent it), and “Member of Citizens for Criminal JUSTICE” if you like – shows you are part of a large group.
Send the email to yourself, and put on the “bcc” bar the email addresses for Letters to the Editor for the top ten newspapers in your state and several national ones – The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, U S A Today (google the Letter to Editor email addresses). Any questions, CALL me at 302-423-4067! 🙂
Need a Letter on some criminal justice issue and not a great letter writer? NO EXCUSE! Email me a rough draft and call me and I’ll polish it up! email@example.com .