With the decision in the Northern District of Ohio yesterday, it appears the BOP is in freefall. I’ve written about the root causes of inferior BOP leadership for many years as well as the agency’s lack of transparency and accountability. While the BOP needs to own their “shoot, ready, aim” shenanigans, let us not forget it’s politicians and the “tough on crime” era which should take most of the blame for the crisis we find ourselves in.

Let’s face it, the BOP doesn’t determine the amount of people, yes people, who are packed into the prisons.  I can write a book about how we got into this mess but let’s hope this crisis is finally going to wake up our country and realize there are no boogiemen. This narrative of “violent/non-violent” is simply false and does nothing to change the collective conscious of the nation.   People violate laws for a myriad of reasons and deviance is far more nuanced than one understands. The highly educated, minimum Federal prison camper that is going to steal the last penny of an elderly widow the day of release is “non-violent” while the urban, middle age person of color, living in a medium facility, who had one ancient act of aggression as a young adult won’t be receiving their get out of jail card for COVID-19! These labels and “lists” like the PATTERN algorithm defeat the entire purpose of the concept of unit management and the judgement of correctional treatment professionals to assess the risk of each case on the merit regardless of the security level, crime or criminal history.

Participation in programs such as home detention should not be denied without a credible threat to the community. The BOP policy on Home Confinement is clear that “all” can be considered but while COVID19 spreads throughout the system people not on the list are not even considered.

Let’s take the controversial topic of “sex offenders”. It’s easy to hear that term and say it makes common sense to not allow sex offenders into home confinement until you understand what that really means in prison policy, mainly classification.  Did you know in the BOP world, a 60 year man at Elkton with Emphysema who was fined or received probation as an 18 year old for having consensual sex with his 16 year old girlfriend is classified as a sex offender!  He’s not on the list!  I recently had a 50 year old client that in 1984 was working for the MTA and a subway rider accused him of grabbing her buttocks. He was fined for the lowest severity crime on the NY code and did not even receive a reprimand at work. He was classified as a sex offender in the BOP and while he was eventually released, he would not be on “the list” today if he were still incarcerated.

Let’s take the PATTERN risk assessment. While advocates point to its discriminatory nature, most people do not realize the criteria changed on January 15, 2020 AFTER the BOP had already scored everyone in accordance with the First Step Act mandate. If someone doesn’t have a “minimum” PATTERN score, you’re not on the list never mind trying to get it updated with the revised criteria in this crisis.        

In summary, my RANT is focused on what something I/we practiced back in the 80’s which the BOP alleges still occurs today. While the Classification and Program Review policy has slightly changed over the years, the concept is the same. The BOP breaks down groups of people (units) and assigns them to a “team”.  The team consists of a case manager, counselor, unit manager, psychologist and an education representative. We actually sat down during the team meeting, face to face with people for a 15 to 30 minute staffing where each member of the team thoroughly discussed the recommended correctional treatment plan and the person had our undivided attention to ask question and make requests. That’s the way we (unit team staff) developed the ability to assess threat and get to know the individual. Today, while the policy is practically the same, team is most often a one on one exercise lasting long enough to secure a signature on the required paperwork. It is void of substance and meaningful interaction partly responsible because of the large caseloads from the “tough on crime” era.  

The inability of the BOP to honor the intent of policy for meaningful correctional treatment practices hinders professional judgment in knowing a person’s case circumstances, assessing a credible threat and forces the agency to rely on “lists” and discriminatory algorithms which makes facilities and the public less safe and keep people in prisons when they could be moved out of harm’s way.