Letter to Eric Holder, Attorney General

Sent: November 7, 2013

Attorney General Eric Holder

Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Ave NW

Washington, DC 20530-0001

Much has been recently discussed about the explosion of the prison population in recent decades. Currently there are numerous bills being passed around to address different aspects of this issue, but so far nothing to address the issue on a large scale has been acted upon. While many factors contribute to this, it cannot be ignored that the increase occurred after the creation of the United States Sentencing Commission and after Federal Parole was removed as an option for inmates sentenced after 1987.

Over the course of the past few months proposed legislation to reinstate Federal Parole, The One Shot Bill, as well as a recent study of sentence disparity prepared by CultureQuantiX has been forwarded to your office via email and hardcopy mail. REINSTATING PAROLE would offer relief to all those affected by harsh sentencing practices of the past as well as relieve the overcrowding and astronomical costs of prisons. Since your time began as Attorney General, you have addressed key issues by offering solutions to target the problem, as with the Fair Sentencing Act and your most recent guidance to prosecutors to proceed with this disparity in mind from the beginning of their investigation. The Fair Sentencing Act is a key example of a crucial step taken to address disparity in our system. The 20% disparity between white males convicted of drug crimes as compared to their similarly situated black and Hispanic counterparts was called shameful. The study prepared by CultureQuantiX in September 2013 compiled data from 30 female inmates at the Danbury Prison Camp convicted of white collar crimes to the sentences of 30 males convicted of similar crimes. If a 20% disparity was called shameful, then the 300% disparity in this study, with the males serving the lower of the sentences, can be called a travesty. The CutureQuantiX study is scheduled to be discussed at a forum held by Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law on November 12, 2013 at Harvard. While preventing such disparity in the future would require a major overhaul not just in policy, but of the mindset of sitting judges – a daunting task. It is within YOUR power, however, to put in place a policy that is akin to the checks and balances concept that our Federal Government was built upon – Federal Parole. As long prosecutors have unlimited power to indict and Federal Judges are able to use their discretion as well as are appointed for life, there will continue to be those that are subjected to disparate and harsh sentencing. Federal Parole will again ensure that prisons don’t hold individuals for longer than necessary. Recently you stated “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason… Widespread incarceration… is both ineffective and unsustainable.” This statement gave many inmates affected by harsh and unjust sentences hope that relief would be shortly coming. Here at FCI Danbury, however, the actions of the Bureaus of Prisons are contrary to that statement.

FCI and FPC Danbury have been the center of attention due to the drastic proposal of removing the only female low security facility in the Northeast to alleviate overcrowding in male facilities. On November 6, 2013 the inmates housed in the Federal Prison Camp (where the female inmate subjects of the CultureQuantiX study are housed) were notified that the minimum security facility they are housed in will be converted to a low security facility and a new camp will be constructed on the property. While this accomplishes the goal of maintaining a low security facility in the North East, it is doing as in a manner that is contrary to all the goals recently stated by yourself, Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels, as well as an overwhelming number of congressmen. Not to mention that polls have recently shown that the majority of citizens support prison reform. How did building yet another prison become an option? The whole premise behind the objection of the mission change was the disregard of keeping women close to their families. While a new facility accomplishes that goal, it does so at expense of the taxpayers, but also to the forward momentum that prison reform has been gaining. In light of this, you have the ability to take urgent action and address the root cause of prison overpopulation – which is the over incarceration of those convicted of crimes, especially non-violent first time offenders. While parole will offer an opportunity for all inmates who do the right thing during their incarceration to have a chance at reentering society without having to serve close to 90% of their sentence, utilizing home confinement and community confinement can offer immediate relief.

The FCI that is being converted to a male facility accommodate 1200 inmates. There are numerous options to alleviate the male population by that number that would not cost taxpayers money or have any negative public safety issues. In fact, more and more data suggests that having low risk non-violent offenders behind bars has more negative costs to society. They are unable to support their families, they lose precious time in the job market and spend that time in an environment that is lacking in educational and vocational resources.

As far as the women in FCI and FPC are concerned, this may be an ideal facility to enact bold pilot programs that can get the Bureau of Prisons back on the same page as the Department of Justice and Congress when it comes to alternative sentencing programs, reducing the population, and keeping families together. YOU are in a position to endorse these programs and let Danbury be part of the prison reform movement in the direction you have been publicly in support of, not backwards. There are a number of bills pending in Congress that express a desire to expand the use of community confinement and home confinement. Increasing the use of home confinement, however, can be done immediately, with your support and the direction of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons. YOU can implement the FEDERAL PAROLE “One Shot Bill” and start prison reform now! YOU can leave YOUR mark on history, with a legacy as vital as Martin Luther King Jr.’s was to Civil Rights. Please start this process today!

Camps are the ideal place to look to reduce the population because by their very nature inmates must rate low on scales of recidivism and security. This is the exact type of inmate that politicians and citizens alike are urging to sentence to options other than incarceration. Being sentenced to supervision, whether it be probation or home confinement is not an act of leniency, as District Judge Robert W. Pratt of the Eighth Circuit clarifies when he sentenced Brian Michael Gall to 36 months of probation. There is still a “substantial restriction of freedom”, but while lessening the collateral consequences and costs of incarceration. Currently, policy states that an inmate can spend their prerelease custody period (reentry) in home confinement for the littlest of 10% of their sentence or 6 months, despite the recommended time for reentry being up to 12 months. That same limiting language was at one time applied to Community Confinement, but many courts found that unlawful. That resulted in the period of Community Confinement being allowed up to 12 month, which is in line with the recommended period for prerelease custody outside of the prison walls to allow for a successful reentry. What is interesting is that policy states that Community Confinement must be evaluated with no regard for social or economic status. Many times, however, longer periods of prerelease custody are restricted to the Home Confinement period of 10% or 6 months when an inmate has a residence to return to. This is in fact discriminating against those inmates, assuming that a residence is the only factor to consider for reentry. Reentry needs include educational opportunities, employment, vocational training, life skills, drug or mental health treatment, reestablishing community ties, and most importantly reestablishing family ties. The majority of women in Danbury have minor children. Reuniting these women with their children should be a priority and to deprive them of that reentry need because they are of the economic status that affords them a place to live when they are released seems contrary to the goals currently being stated by the DOJ, BOP and Congress.

The cost of home confinement is 1/10th of the cost to incarcerate. That cost savings can be used to increase the number of beds available in halfway houses. One of the obstacles of inmates being released recently has been that there are no available beds to place them in. That means that inmates that qualify to be released in the community are being kept within prisons due to lack of resources, yet the resources necessary to house them in prisons is exponentially higher than if they were in custody in the community or home. The new prison camp is estimated to cost $8-10 Million dollars, as stated by Sen. Blumenthal. Those funds could immediately be used to increase reentry programs, saving the taxpayers millions of dollars and truly accomplishing the goal of reuniting families.

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE and YOU have the POWER to address this Facility and enact change that will save the lives of inmates and their families as well as taxpayer dollars.  If Federal Parole is reestablished, the surge in the prison population can slowly be controlled. The process can begin, however, by utilizing statutes that are already in place and immediately including the option of home confinement being extended to the already established 12 months prerelease custody transition.

Attorney General Holder, YOU are in a position to COMPEL CHANGE that will move our criminal justice in the right direction. The stage has been set for bold moves to be made, and be well received by politicians and citizens alike. Countless families can be saved the pain and suffering of separation and prisons can again be reserved for those who pose a threat to public safety. Not only inmates, but all Americans are looking to YOU to act. Your legacy can be ending the injustice and wastefulness in the criminal justice system. This would be a success not just fiscally, but more importantly to the quality of society at large.

Thank you in advance for being a historical leader in our country.

Stacey Petro

Reg # 17986-014

FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION ROUTE 37

DANBURY, CT 06811

United States of America

 

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About whoistoblame

Mom of two, currently serving the last 12 months of my sentence in a halfway house and wanting to go home to my children.
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