Ninety-four percent of all prisoners are eventually going to leave prison and rejoin society. Those of us concerned about protecting public safety should support policies and programs that are proven to reduce the likelihood that returning citizens will reoffend. FAMM supports federal and state policies that provide incarcerated individuals with access to meaningful work and educational opportunities, as well as substance abuse and mental health treatment. Further, we believe that all corrections facilities should be safe and that individuals who are incarcerated should remain close to their homes in order to maintain and strengthen important family bonds.
116th Congress Prison Reform Legislation
The REAL Act is a bipartisan, bicameral bill that would reinstate Pell Grant eligibility for all academically eligible students in both state and federal prisons. In 1994, Congress stripped all prisoners of Pell Grant eligibility which resulted in a severe lack of access to postsecondary education in our nation’s prisons. This bill would reverse this draconian policy of the 1990s and invest in access to postsecondary education, which has been proven to significantly reduce recidivism.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in the Senate; and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.), Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in the House.
FAMM supports the REAL Act (H.R. 2168/S. 1074). The REAL Act is not yet law. The bill must pass through relevant committees in both the House and Senate as well as pass through the floor of both chambers before it can be signed into law by the President.
“Restore Pell Grant Eligibility to People in Prison” — Kevin Ring, FAMM President.
“Congress Should Restore Prisoners’ Pell Grant Eligibility” — Debi Campbell, FAMM Deputy Director of Story Telling and Family Outreach.
The Promoting Reentry through Education in Prison (PREP) Act, introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), would improve correctional education by creating an Office of Correctional Education within the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The office would be tasked with improving administrative efficiency and standardizing educational programming to ensure that quality education is offered across BOP facilities.
The bill would also establish the Federal Correctional Education Program to create quality education programs with rigorous auditing and reporting to ensure that incarcerated students are receiving quality programming to improve outcomes both during their incarceration and throughout their reentry process.
Finally, the bill would provide technical assistance and training to state and local correctional institutions to implement quality correctional education programming within their facilities.
FAMM supports the PREP Act (S. 1337). The PREP Act is not yet law. The bill must pass through the Senate Judiciary Committee and pass through the floors of both the House of Representatives and Senate before it can be signed into law by the President.
The First Step Act
On December 21, 2018, President Trump signed into law the First Step Act, a comprehensive criminal justice reform package which includes both sentencing and prison reforms. For more information visit www.firststepact.online.
Report: Using Time to Reduce Crime
In June 2017, FAMM released a first-of-its-kind report on the need to improve federal prison programs. The report was based on a survey we conducted of federal prisoners to learn as much as we could about the frequency, type, and quality of programs and education they were offered. More than 2,000 individuals responded, offering extensive details about the programs, jobs, and educational opportunities available to them in prison. The survey results provide policymakers a better understanding of what federal prisons currently provide and what reforms are needed to advance the goal of reducing recidivism.
What We Found and What We Recommend
Finding: Nearly every prisoner has a job, but many jobs are part-time or “make work” jobs whose impact on a person’s risk of recidivism has not been studied or measured.
Recommendation: Congress and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) should invest resources to provide meaningful jobs similar to those that a person may be able to attain outside of prison.
Finding: Just 2 percent of survey respondents had access to computers to complete educational coursework or learn up-to-date computer technology.
Recommendation: BOP should allow prisoners greater access to computers and the internet and consider allowing prisoners to purchase tablet computers.
Finding: The quality and availability of educational programs vary greatly. The most widely attended classes, which are usually taught by other prisoners, lack rigor and substance. Attaining a college degree in federal prison is difficult, if not impossible, for most prisoners.
Recommendation: Policymakers should ensure that quality educational programming is consistent across federal institutions, provided by educational professionals, and offered to all prisoners regardless of their offense or release date. Congress should also eliminate the ban on federal prisoners receiving Pell Grants.
Finding: A government-funded study found that vocational training makes prisoners 28 percent more likely to obtain post-release employment than prisoners who simply took academic programs. Survey respondents told us that vocational training is popular and coveted, but is limited and offered only to prisoners who are close to their release dates.
Recommendation: Vocational training should be expanded, provided by certified professionals, and offered to all prisoners, regardless of their offense or release date. BOP should partner with public and private employers to ensure that training is current for today’s job market.
Finding: The Bureau of Prisons’ Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), which is offered to a limited number of prisoners, has been found to lessen the likelihood of recidivism, relapse, and even prison misconduct. The overwhelming majority of respondents who participated in RDAP found the program beneficial.
Recommendation: BOP should ease the program’s current restrictions on eligibility so that all prisoners who have a diagnosed substance abuse problem are incentivized to participate. Other non-residential drug treatment programs should also be incentivized as the RDAP is, by allowing prisoners to earn sentence reductions for program completion.
Finding: Many federal prisoners have histories of mental illness, trauma, poor decision-making and impulse control, or inability to manage anger and other emotions. Studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy can reduce recidivism, but more than two-thirds of prisoners who responded to our survey said they had not received mental or behavioral health treatment.
Recommendation: Mental health treatment and behavioral counseling, including faith-based programs, should be expanded until they are available to all prisoners who wish to participate in them. In addition, the BOP should hire more trained and licensed mental health professionals.
Finding: The vast majority of prisoners would respond to incentives to participate in recidivism-reducing programs, especially if they could earn sentence reductions. Other incentives, such as additional halfway house and home confinement time and extra visiting and phone privileges would increase participation as well.
Recommendation: Policymakers should utilize all of these incentives, including sentence reductions, based on their value to each prisoner.
Finding: Half of respondents told us they were incarcerated more than 500 air miles from home, despite a BOP policy that seeks to keep prisoners within that distance.
Recommendation: BOP should place prisoners within 500 driving miles of their families and relocate prisoners closer to home whenever possible, except in limited cases.
Finding: Most prisoners are aware that under the Second Chance Act they could receive up to 12 months of halfway house time, but expect to get only three to six months. Many prisoners have concerns about staying at halfway houses.
Recommendation: The Justice Department, with funding from Congress, should increase halfway house capacity so that all prisoners who need a full year can live a full year in a halfway house, and study the efficacy of halfway houses. Finally, Congress should expand use of home confinement by removing its current limitation to six months/10 percent of the sentence.
For more information, see our resources below: