LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

posted : Aug 16, 2015

United States mass incarceration is producing the most inmates anywhere in the world.

Cruel and unusual is used to describe how low level or misdemeanor crimes as trivial as stealing a $2.50 pair of socks (Wilkerson vs. California) is punished the same as a felon or murderer.

 FROM: Gabrielle " Gabby" Hammons

 

The relationship between the United States and mass incarceration isn’t sweet at all. Producing the most inmates anywhere in the world, Louisiana alone has an incarceration rate nearly five-times Iran, thirteen-times China, and twenty-times Germany.

While the GOP has long opposed court rulings to grant releases for non-violent offenders (NVOs), a connection with such history can get complicated, please have no worries. In this opinion we will simply explore the role of our nations prisons to overcrowding, sales tax, recidivism, Medicaid expansion, the elderly and a state's budget. We will discover ‘conversations at heart’ that can develop through new strategic partnerships, communication goals, and reforms through public policy to end mass incarceration. At the end, you can decide if GOP has changed their heart, or if they are falling into a ‘budget of pieces.’

 

The War on Drugs was announced in 1971. According to Federal Bureau of prisons, just about half of inmates are from drug charges (http://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_offenses.jsp). The “three strikes” or habitual offenders law has punished NVOs who have three offenses to the maximum sentence of 25 years to life; many who have no possibility of parole.

The first true three strikes law was passed in Washington State in 1993- followed by California in 1994. In 2012, a total of twenty-eight states had enforced the law. The goal of these “cruel and unusual” sentences is to reduce crimes by physical isolation and can be linked to the increasing rate of the elderly population currently serving time behind bars. Cruel and unusual is used to describe how low level or misdemeanor crimes as trivial as stealing a $2.50 pair of socks (Wilkerson vs. California) is punished the same as a felon or murderer.

 

▲ Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal oblivious to the fact that 70 percent of Georgia’s state prisoners lack high school diploma, announced in 2014 that the State Dept. of Corrections (DOC) will partner with a charter school to assist in receiving their diploma.

 

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of United States vs. Booker to allow judges the flexibility to release inmates at their own discretion rather than federal sentencing laws granting early releases (or compassionate releases for elderly).

The Daily Beast reported, Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America once called for more prisons and tougher sentencing, but these days the presidential candidate is co-authoring passionate editorials about the need for “common-sense left-right agreement” on prison reform and “encouragement and love” for offenders who have served time.

After 10 years...what took so long?

On January 9, 2015, Sheriff Steve Barry of Akron Ohio had to grant early releases to seventy-one NVOs citing issues with the budget due to overcrowding and staff shortages. After voters declined a 0.25 sales tax increase, Sheriff Barry asked city council for $3.6 million to keep the prison functional. The initial sales tax proposal or Issue 12 included $74 million for a University of Akron stadium, with a majority going to public safety departments. The sales tax would’ve resulted in a total of $228 million over the course of 10 years but the aforementioned stadium did not sit well with citizens. Of the released, one was in jail for a 3rd degree felony robbery and another was a habitual drunk driver. Upon their release, inmates were offered emergency shelter, hats, gloves, and scarfs.

▲On January 9, 2015, Sheriff Steve Barry of Akron Ohio had to grant early releases to seventy-one NVOs citing issues with the budget due to overcrowding and staff shortages. After voters declined a 0.25 sales tax increase, Sheriff Barry asked city council for $3.6 million to keep the prison functional.

 

The revenue from taxpayers balances out its state and city courts, roads, health care, and the annual prison budget priced just over $50 billion. Since the start of sales tax in the 1930s, little to no reforms have been made. When in discussions of sales tax, lets be observant of the reforms made to income tax.

The Tax Reform Act of 1968 consolidated fifteen income brackets into four, lowering the top income earner taxes by 42 percent while raising the lower earners taxes by 4 percent. Sales tax tends to affect poor consumers who spend a larger proportion of their salary on consumption of primary goods. Furthermore, people over the age of 65 who live off reduced income from retirement can be taxed twice when sales tax bills are passed. Income tax incentives are given to buying homes, providing business, and charitable donations.

“Modernizing” tax reform is at the interpretation of that state.

▲Gov. Paul LePage of Maine proposed a tax bill that would eliminate nearly all deductions from high-income taxers in three steps.The plan also includes taxing large nonprofits that aid inmates once they are released because they – nonprofits such as hospitals could, “stress local infrastructure.”

 

On the same day of the Akron inmate release- more than 45 years after 1968- Gov. Paul LePage of Maine proposed a tax bill that would eliminate nearly all deductions from high-income taxers in three steps. This was an extension of Maine’s 2013 tax code, LD 1496 (http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_126th/billtexts/HP107301.asp) which would tax new services such as heating oil, funeral services, plumbing and electrical work, move ticket purchases, haircuts, and dry cleaning to make up for the revenue. The plan also includes taxing large nonprofits that aid inmates once they are released because they – nonprofits such as hospitals could, “stress local infrastructure.”

Since 2013, Minnesota has received compliments on passing reforms that represent the 21st century. In an effort to fund financial aid and provide financial literacy programs a tax increase was made for the first time since 1990 increase minimum fees for businesses and reduce property tax for low and middle-income earners. Kurbin and Stewart found that when looking at community, rather than individual level, inmates who return to disadvantaged neighborhoods recidivate at a greater rate compared to those with resource rich neighborhoods. When California was ordered to release over 10,000 inmates in a years time lawyers representing Gov. Brown argued that there is a lack of data to show it was safe to release inmates and the ability of law enforcement and social services to monitor the huge amount.

Three of the released seventy-one Akron inmates were back in jail within hours of their release for theft by stealing $67 in food, theft by stealing a $110 coat, and possession of a hypodermic needle and spoon from scene of their own heroin overdose.

Recidivism is the rate in which an inmate returns to prison within the first three years of their initial release. When an individual returns, it then strains its states corrections budget and therefore cost effective measures and policies are needed to address the problem. The Statewide Recidivism Reduction grants distributed by the 2007 Second Chance Act, allow states to reinvest in evidence-based re-entry programs that provide career training, substance abuse housing, family programming, mentoring, and victim support. North Carolina is victim support. North Carolina is projected to save $560 million by 2017 by using supervision and treatment resources more efficiently.  Louisiana has saved $7,975 per year family programming, mentoring, and victim support. North Carolina is projected to save $560 million by 2017 by using supervision and treatment resources more efficiently.
By moving state inmates from custody to parole and $18,239 by doing the same for those in local facilities.

The, Three State Recidivism Study by the Correctional Education Association found that inmates in Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio who participated in education programs while in prison recidivated at a 29 percent lower rate than inmates who did not.

Jake Cronin, a policy analyst with the Institute of Public Policy found a 43 percent reduction in inmate re-entry for those who had their GED and found full time employment.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal oblivious to the fact that 70 percent of Georgia’s state prisoners lack high school diploma, announced in 2014 that the State Dept. of Corrections (DOC) will partner with a charter school to assist in receiving their diploma.

At the same time, Susan Megahee, a spokesperson at Georgia DOC said, “we have no historical data of any offender receiving their high school diploma.”

A novel approach to finance and reduce recidivism is called Social Impact Bonds (SIB) or Pay for Success Bond which is currently being evaluated in New York City and Massachusetts. The first model was structured in Britain in 2010 at Her Majesty’s Prison Peterborough- followed by Australia and the United States. The bond allows private companies such as Goldman Sachs to provide programs that are too expensive for the government to afford by financing a non-profit program that municipal funders might have passed up. Goldman Sachs offered $9 million to both a non-profit group that oversees the work of two charities running jail programs at Rikers Island and to a Massachusetts program focusing on chronic homelessness and juvenile justice. If the program can show a 10% reduction in recidivism rates, Goldman will receive its money back (from the government) and can make up to $2.1 million if the rates fall further. Met with mixed reviews, Bloomberg Business described the scheme as “combining capitalism and charity” while Elizabeth Gaynes who has directed one of the charities at Rikers island.

▲For years Elizabeth Gaynes has doubts of where she could’ve found the money to aid the 3,000 young people that pass through their prison each year.

  

In a study of 404,638 inmates released across 30 states:

In 3 years, 68% inmates were rearrested

In 5 years, 77% inmates were rearrested

57% of those rearrested occurred by end of first year

SOURCE - Bureau of Justice Statistics (2005)

For years  Elizabeth Gaynes has doubts of where she could’ve found the money to aid the 3,000 young people that pass through their prison each year.

Results of the programs will come in 2016; however, the lack of data on how to identify and assess quality non-profits and socially minded businesses has groups trying to develop that information by creating a way to standardize information on organizations’ social, environmental and financial impact. Ron Cordes, a former wealth manager and now a philanthropist says, “putting my investor hat on, what we need now is a number of pilots that demonstrate they work.” SIB is being launched or receiving support in 15 other states.

In both the New York and Massachusetts schemes, programs are offered to inmates ages 19-34. So who is accountable for older inmates?

 

editors@georgiaweeklypost.com 

 

 

 

 

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