Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cornyn: Reform federal prisons based on Texas model

Texas' US Sen. John Cornyn this month introduced federal legislation, S. 1783, styled the Federal Prison Reform Act of 2013, that he says is modeled after state-level reforms in Texas. According to his press release on the topic, here's a summary of what the bill would do:
• Requires the Department of Justice to use existing funds to develop and implement recidivism reduction programming (drug rehabilitation, education, skills training, work programs, etc.) for 100% of eligible federal prisoners within 5 years. Ineligible prisoners include violent offenders, sex offenders, terrorists, child abusers, human traffickers, and repeat federal offenders.

• Requires the Attorney General to enter into partnership with non-profit and faith-based organizations to provide many of these programs at little or no cost to the taxpayer.

• Requires the use of existing resources to develop a federal post-conviction risk assessment tool that uses empirical data to classify all federal prisoners as (1) low-risk of recidivism; (2) medium risk of recidivism; or (3) high risk of recidivism, and allow for regular reassessments of each eligible prisoner over time.

• Allows prisoners who are classified as low-risk to earn up to 50% of their remaining sentence in home confinement or a halfway house, with earned time credit accruing at a rate of 30 days for every 30 days the prisoner is successfully completing recidivism reduction programming.

• Allows medium-risk and high-risk prisoners to earn time credits at a rate of 30% and 20% while they are successfully completing recidivism reduction programming, but does not allow them to cash in this credit until the risk assessment tool shows that they are a low-risk of recidivating.

• Reduces the need for new federal prison construction allocation by working to cap and reduce the number of incarcerated offenders by shifting prisoners near the end of their sentence to home confinement.
See the full text here. Haven't read the full thing myself, yet, so Grits may have more to say later on the topic, particularly if the legislation gains traction. Presently, Cornyn has three co-sponsors - Republican Senators Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, and Mike Lee - and the bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sounds good from the summary, but I'd feel more sanguine about its chances if the bill had bipartisan sponsorship - a key factor in passing Texas' 2007 reforms - and/or there was companion legislation in the House.


gravyrug said...

I think the key here is going to be the "use existing funds" part. Cornyn wants reforms that he doesn't have to pay for. The ideas seem decent, but implementing them with no new funds is gonna be next to impossible.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yes, that's the other thing about Texas' 2007 reforms: The Lege actually put money behind the diversion programs. They recognized it was still cheaper than building more prisons. The changes in the statute wouldn't have worked without the extra money. And of course, the 2007 reforms themselves, while welcome, were no panacea.

Don said...

Right. You can't do it for nothing. He thinks non-profits print their own money, or what? They usually operate with government grants, paid for by. . .the taxpayers. Same ones Cornyn says will not be out any money. Of course, the idea is good, but the notion that it's free is naive at best.

Anonymous said...

Immigration detention centers are a waste of money. We are spending billions to incarcerate migrant workers for NON-VIOLENT illegal entry. Detention is a waste of our money, if you want to stop illegal immigration start incarcerating the company CEO's that are hiring or using subcontracted illegal labor. Throw a few billionaires in prison that are exploiting labor... That should stop it... But that will never happen, because the billionaire's war on the middle class must continue in order to make the US another third world country.