HR 1829 calls for study of Good-Time Release Program for federal prisoners

From FedCURE (

A last minute amendment to HR 1829, also known as the Federal Prison Industries Competition in Contracting Act of 2003, has created hope where there previously was none. The advent of the War on Drugs along with a shift away from rehabilitation as a purpose of incarceration has resulted in overcrowded federal prisons that are little more than human warehousing.

Incapacitation instead of rehabilitation has been the focus of the federal criminal justice system in the last two decades. America is again paying for the hidden costs of war run amok resulting in rising recidivism rates and collateral consequences that, at this time, we cannot even begin to measure. HR 1829 is the first step in mandating the reintroduction of rehabilitation as a purpose of incarceration in the federal prison system.

Because education and vocational programming is the key to reducing recidivism, Federal CURE unequivocally supports HR 1829 as being in the best interests of the 171,000+ federal prisoners.

While it is true that HR 1829 mandates fundamental changes in Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR) or FPI), it does so in a manner that provides the basis for reintroduction of rehabilitative programming in the federal prison system. In recent years, government data shows that FPI has shifted its purpose and emphasis from employing prisoners to simply increasing profits.

In the mid-1980s, the federal prison population was 25,000 with FPI employing 10,000 federal prisoners. In 2004, the federal prison population is 171,000 with FPI employing approx. 18,000 prisoners. FPI's focus is maximization of profits, not rehabilitation of federal prisoners.

President Bush and his predecessors explicitly banned the importation of goods manufactured in China by prisoners based on China's abuse of the prison industrial complex as a means to make large profits at the expense of prisoners. Today, in 2003, FPI is perpetuating the same type of environment.

H.R. 1829 provides alternative rehabilitative opportunities to FPI that will increase the prospects of more federal prisoners successfully returning to society. The bill encourages the use of federal prisoners to perform public service projects, especially with not-for-profit organizations. The bill increases prisoners' access to the types of remedial and modern hands-on vocational education that studies have consistently shown to better reduce recidivism. In short, HR 1829 creates educational and vocational opportunities for federal prisoners that currently do not exist in the Bureau of Prisons. Further it establishes a reentry demonstration program project that creates a transitional bridge for federal prisoners upon their reentry to society.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee's amendment to HR 1829, acknowledges for the first time Congress's acquiescence to the fact that the current federal criminal justice system is not working the way proponents of mandatory minimum sentencing envisioned it working.

The amendment to HR 1859 reads: "It is the sense of Congress that it is important to study the concept of implementing a 'good-time' release program for non-violent criminals in the federal prison system."

FedCURE supports sentencing reform that leads to the creation of increased good time credits as merit incentives for completion of educational, psychological and vocational programming by federal prisoners. We believe that Rep. Jackson-Lee's amendment is the first step in that direction combined with HR 1829's mandate for reintroduction of rehabilitation as the purpose of incarceration and accomplishment of that purpose through education.

Acknowledging that during the transitional period there may be decreases in FPI jobs for a small number of federal prisoners, Federal CURE believes that the long range benefits for all federal prisoners greatly outweigh the short-term disadvantages.

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