The Justice Department’s upcoming release of 6,000 inmates from federal prison was the subject of an interview earlier this month between LSIC Executive Director Moses Cook and Roach Brown, host of WPFW’s Crossroads, a radio show focused on issues facing the formerly incarcerated in the Washington Metro area.
Cook, along with LSIC Legal Fellow Mike Michel, offered their perspectives on the largest release of federal prisoners at one time in the history of the U.S. – an action aimed at reducing overcrowding of prisons and providing relief to drug offenders who received harsh sentences.
Cook, who began his career as a criminal defense attorney, recalled visiting jails in the early 2000s. During those years, when inmates were released, a guard opened the gate and men in orange jumpsuits ambled onto the street, often with nowhere to go.
This is no longer the case, Cook explained.
Today’s definition of “release” is different. Under the new sentencing guidelines, inmates must petition a judge for an early release date. If granted the petition, most inmates are sent to halfway houses six months before their time is up, where they are supervised and provided support. About a third of the upcoming releasees will be sent to immigration detention centers. Brown stressed that the law is retroactive for people who have already served their time—that is, if these same people were sentenced today, they would have received a shorter sentence.
Cook and Brown praised the bipartisan efforts for criminal justice reform in the House and Senate but encouraged leaders to look beyond nonviolent drug crimes and consider sentencing for some “violent” crimes. Lamented Brown, “We are all subject to be violent. Just push that button.”
The real issue, the host and guests agreed, is what happens to inmates after they are released. Michel noted that individuals with drug offenses are more apt to return to prison than those charged with a violent crime. “If we don’t provide for re-entering citizens, they’re stuck,” he said. Drug and mental health treatment, records sealing, job training, and transitional housing are the recipe for success.
Michel concluded, “We have to face the fact that these people are not that different from us, and if we’re going to believe that, we need to do more for them.“
Crossroads is heard every Tuesday, 10-11 am on WPFW-FM 89.3 Pacifica Radio. Look for the October 13th recording in the radio archives.
Following the interview, Moses and Mike were invited to attend the Community Roundtable on Criminal Justice Reform convened by the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency on October 15th. The topic of the discussion was criminal justice reform and its impact on public safety in the District of Columbia.