Don Siegelman

Dec 26, 2018

5 min read

Charles Koch’s Christmas Present to America

Charles Koch

Here I go again, giving thanks to an Icon of The Right, The Rich and The
Republicans and frequent target of my fellow Democrats, Charles Koch.
But as Democrats who have been calling for criminal justice reform we
must thank Charles Koch for supporting the issue giving it a strong
foundation on the Republican side. Without “The Man” himself weighing in
we might not be where we are. Charles Koch (and his legal counsel, Mark
Holden) initiated a national dialogue on criminal justice reform in
Politico, January 7th, 2015, calling for changes in how we administer
justice
.

The Overcriminalization of America, Politico Magazine, Jan 07, 2015.

We also have to thank Charles Kushner, Jared‘s father, who served a little
time in federal prison. Having gone through the process no doubt gave
Jarred insight into the federal prison system. Jared admits how helpless he
felt while his dad was going through the system. Now he asks: “Are prisons
for punishment, warehousing or rehabilitation?”

Much can be said about needed reforms that would balance the scales of
justice on the front end: how people are investigated, plea-bargains, the
grand jury, prosecutions and long sentences (see my article in Medium:
“Trump verses Mueller verses Trump”)
. The First Step Act deals only with
prison’s purpose and how to make those who go through the federal prison
system come out better than they went in. This is an admirable goal.
However good, here are few issues readers should know about the present
federal prison system that the First Step Act side steps.

Prisons Are Human Warehouses

Prisons are not the best place to tackle the issues that got a person behind
bars but it;s a chance for society to try to turn these offenders
around — before they become repeat offenders. Giving offenders hope that
they can reenter society and stay out of trouble means teaching them job
skills, math, reading, writing, and language skills.

In my home state of Alabama the Department of Adult Education conducted a study and found that 70% of the inmates who got a GED in prison did not return.
If prisons focused on reducing recidivism there would be an emphasis on
education and jobs skills training. In one federal prison camp in Louisiana,
there are self-help videos, one welding class and no online educational
opportunities for self-advancement and no one available full time to help a
person learn to read and write. We cannot expect someone who comes in
with zero job skills and leaves with zero job skills to get a job.
If we want to reduce crime and help our economy, we have to reverse our
mandate of just locking prisoners up and warehousing them until it;s time
for their release. Our current system produces a worse product. Inmates
separated from their families lose touch with their spouses and children.
Mr. Charles Koch in his article on criminal justice reform in Politico,
January 7th, 2015, said, “”Fixing our criminal justice system could reduce
the overall poverty rate as much as 30%, dramatically improving the quality
of life throughout society especially for the disadvantaged”.

Our mandated unnecessarily long sentences destroy hope and families
while doing nothing to prepare an inmate to get and hold a job. We must
reverse the mandate from convictions and long sentences to reducing
recidivism yet the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) has a mandate to keep
inmates in prison, not to prepare them for jobs. This mindset is a slap in
the face to taxpayers. Here are some examples of how President Trump,
through an executive order, could help make things better for us all.
The FBOP only awards 47 days of "Good Time" credit while currently
authorized to give 54 days. By not giving the full 54 days, the FBOP keep
prisons full and cost taxpayers approximately $120,000,000 each year.
This will be coming to an end under The First Step Act.
The FBOP does not give the six (6) month maximum time allowed for
home confinement; The FBOP released nearly 55,000 inmates in 2012.
By just allowing three (3) months of "home confinement" for only 20,000
inmates, taxpayers would see a savings of roughly $150,000,000 per year.
The First Step Act gives a directive to the FBOP to move more acceptable

candidates into home confinement. With the FBOP still under no mandate,
we need to keep an eye on how well this provision is implemented.
The First Step Act also intends to keep inmates closer to their families and
to improve compassionate releases. The FBOP has a miserable record in
these categories requiring a close watch to see if the FBOP actually makes
an effort to change.

The FBOP does not have a mandate to help inmates find employment.
There are no Human Resource officers charged with the responsibility of
helping inmates locate specific job opportunities for which they are
qualified, before release.
The First Step Act speaks of reducing recidivism but FBOP promotions are
not based on making it happen. Promotions could be changed to reward
reducing recidivism.
The First Step Act also failed to require all Federal prisons to increase
emphasis on rehabilitation with more math, reading, writing, language, and
specific job training skills. Moreover, prisons should have Human Resource
officers linking inmates, before release, to specific jobs near their home
communities.
Additional "Good Time" credit should be given upon completion of a GED,
educational and job training courses. It’s a fact inmates who get a GED are
less likely to return.
A glaring omission in the First Step Act is that while many colleges and
universities as well as the Library of Congress allow free access to
educational courses and research, federal prisons are not mandated to
allow inmates to connect to free online educational material and courses.
Prisons are our best and last chance to try to change the pattern that
brought someone to prison in the first place, the First Step Act is a first step
in the right direction.

Despite shortcomings we should all thank our Members of Congress for
supporting The First Step Act Act.
Let’s say thanks for making it happen!