ELIMINATION OF MANDATORY SENTENCING GUIDELINES WILL NOT DESTROY PRISONS
We at BootheGlobalPerspectives predict that the USA will gradually eliminate mandatory sentencing guidelines, such as "three strikes and you are out" and move to more enlightened judicial processes. We support and encourage that direction, especially as we see trends emerging in the prison industry.
The facts show that prison occupancy is declining for the first time in decades. Some economic forces, as well as other social and community pressures, say that we cannot afford to continue to house millions of people in prisons indefinitely. On the other hand, as the population grows we will need prisons. We know there are many prisons that have been, or are being converted to other uses such as rehabilitation, veteran’s housing, youth centers and community centers. Creative and thoughtful people in the industry are preparing for greater numbers of people around the world, wanting to immigrate to the USA. Just look what has happened in Europe, with hundreds of thousands of people flooding in, trying to find a better life. I believe that in the USA, many of these may come in as illegal aliens while others may come in as refugees. We can only build so many walls and fences, and history has proven again and again, walls don't keep people out, they keep people in! But, if a tidal wave of people pour into the USA, like they have in Europe, we may need to control our borders better and we may need additional facilities to house them. So we need to be considering different alternatives. One has to to with brick and mortar, the other has to do with doing away with Mandatory Sentencing Guidelines that tie the hands of our judges and judicial court system. Elimination of mandatory sentencing guidelines to do away with absurd laws such as the "Three strikes" law, will allow room in prisons for people who deserve to be there.
Many prisons will be converted to other uses!
To meet this demand, some prisons that are now empty will be converted to housing, or temporary support institutions to help these people as they try to get settled in their new homes in the USA. Some will screen and process, some will educate, some will try to assure that "evil doers" don't slip through the system. Some prisons will be changed from low security to high security, to fill the demands for more hardened criminals. The long term future is that more and better designed facilities will probably be needed, or more innovative ways of dealing with criminals implemented, but for now, the industry is reacting to changing times, cyclical overbuilding and resistance by law enforcement, judges and civic leaders to building more prisons.
In some states, prisons have been overbuilt. It has in the past been a profitable business to be in. Many prisons today are competing for prisoners and having a difficult time keeping occupancy levels high. High occupancy is necessary for prisons to make money. Prisons that have either closed or defaulted because of low occupancy or poor management number in the double digits. Partially because of this:
Many law enforcement leaders believe that sentences should be shorter and release terms should be loosened up.
We don't think that better laws will hurt prisons. We think it will be welcomed by prison and law enforcement officials. Recently a group of over 150 of the nation's top law enforcement leaders went to Washington, suggesting that too many people are in prison and have been there too long. They also suggested that too often the "wrong people" have landed in prison, and that they experience is often devastating. They are calling for earlier releases and creative ways to make the system more intelligent. They also are saying the pressure on law enforcement agencies, the court system and communities that must pay for prison expenses, are stretched too far.
The above chart only goes to 2013, but since 2013 more and more prisons have seen occupancy levels decreasing. The decrease in prison occupancy is a lower percentage of the US population and this trend will likely continue. Some counties and cities that built prisons thinking that they would support or increase municipal income have been disappointed. Some communities have had to absorb millions of dollars in losses because of the prisons they built that did not prove to be profitable. But then, some cities and counties continue to make big bucks, if their political pull is enough to keep their prisons full. But keeping prisons full has become harder and the system must become more intelligent in the ways our society manages criminals and social order. The system must also find better ways to distinguish between hardened criminals and good people who just get cross ways with the system.
There are several trends that have caused lower occupancy, one being that many of the minor offenders who come across our borders with, for example, a joint of marijuana, are now being shipped back to their home country, instead of being given long prison sentences that make prisons, and the towns or companies that own them, from $50 to $75 per night. If people are not a threat to homeland security then they have been instructed by the U.S. Government to be shipped back home. There are more voices, including city governments, judges, sheriff's, elected officials and top law enforcement leaders from all across the USA who are calling for fewer prisoners, quicker releases and a change in “mandatory sentencing laws” that require judges to sentence people, regardless of extenuating circumstances. There have been too many cases where good and stalwart citizens have been sentenced to unreasonable prison time, such as the following story that came our way while researching prison trends. We at Global Perspectives, interviewed key people on this, and know that it is factual.
TRUE STORY ABOUT MANDATORY SENTENCING GUIDELINES
“A young attorney, in Texas was recently on his way home, after visiting some friends where he had a few beers with his meal. When he stopped at a grocery store to pick up some milk and cereal he heard an interesting item on the radio and decided to sit in his car and listen for a few moments. A local policeman was parked on the other side of the same parking lot, also listening to the radio, saw the car park and after a while came and knocked on the window and demanded that the young man get out of the car. The policemen frisked him and told him he smelled beer on his breath, then arrested him. The young man resisted and said: “I was just sitting here listening to a radio program”. Both men probably had a bit too much "macho" and there was pushing. The young man was surprised, offended, and frankly a bit unnerved when he was man-handled. The policeman, had a bit of ego involved and wanted to prove his authority, and decided to arrest the young man. There was no evidence of alcohol in the car. The policeman never saw the young man driving. The young man has been an attorney for years and is well known in his home town for his pro bono work and many efforts to help, particularly in child custody battles. He has friends in law enforcement. But the policeman just saw a guy in jeans sitting in his car and decided he was a suspicious character, probably a drunk driver. He did not know the young man was a churchman, well thought of who had won many important legal cases. Anyway, the young man, in past years had two other times where he was stopped for minor traffic fines and arrested for suspicion of having had a drink. He is blind in one eye, and therefore drives slower than most people, especially at night, and thus unfortunately has attracted the attention of traffic police.
Texas has a law that says, if someone is arrested 3 times, for drinking while driving, or drunk driving the judge by law, must sentence them to prison…no exceptions…for years. It is called THREE STRIKES AND YOU ARE OUT. Mandatory sentencing or “sentencing guidelines” must be followed by judges in Texas. The guidelines mention 10 years.
Policemen, judges, mayors, city council members and victims alike believe the law is unreasonable.
Why? Because it gives the judge no authority to consider character, extenuating circumstances, character, reputation, or the fact that the people may be good citizens. These victims sometimes contribute much to society, BUT THEN WHEN THEY ARE LOCKED UP, TRAGIC CHANGES IN THEIR LIVES OFTEN OCCUR. But there is no doubt that a decade of prison time not only punishes them, often it changes them, destroys marriages, takes parents away from their children, causes family bankruptcy and ruins lives as it punishes the many people they could have helped, but for being locked away because of an unreasonable law. Consider this, have you ever gone out to a dinner, or a party, and driven home having had a bit too much? It is a sin millions of good people have committed. The "THREE STRIKES" law came into being with a well-funded campaign by mothers against drunk drivers, who literally intimidated politicians into voting this law into effect. These emotional women didn’t take into consideration that not everyone who has had a drink is dangerous, or a murderer of children. After years of seeing good people cast into prison, with hardened criminals, no one in law enforcement thinks the law is a good law. The law then forces communities to take care of the feeding, health and room and board for thousands of people who should not be there. There are too many laws such as these that tend to fill up prisons, but also go to an extreme in punishing and harming lives of good and productive citizens.
We can only wonder, with sadness how many good people, like that young man, will end up spending a decade in prison, losing a large portion of what was a productive life, because of an ill conceived law. We also wonder, if the prison experience will change and ruin the young man's idealism, and his bright spirit to do good. Will 10 years in prison make him a darker person?
Prisons will always be needed. They will grow, because there will always be criminals and evil doers. But no institution should not grow at the expense of fairness, common sense. "Three strikes and your out" takes away a judge's ability to provide balanced sentencing by the courts. In my work, I have made money by consulting and helping many institutions, including prisons to be built. But, I have tried to encourage good prison policies, good management and encouraged efforts to use the prisons to train and improve lives when possible. The fact is that many communities cannot afford to build, support, or pay for prisons, unless they turn the prisons, and human beings into economic units. Treating people as economic units tends to dehumanize and often is harmful. Thus the President of the USA has agreed with top law enforcement leaders that we should try to see that only people who really deserve prison, are sent there and people who have been unfairly put into prison, should be given some leniency. A popular political movement of 20 years ago was: “lock ‘em up and throw away the key”. This macho sound bite attracted votes from a type of voters who love colorful and tough talk. But the system sometimes is an unwilling party to unfair sentencing guidelines or ill-conceived laws. The system needs to improve its service to our nation and our communities. There are progressive prison owners and operators who are trying to upgrade the way a prison can improve lives, train people and help them to be productive citizens. This sometimes requires that abuses of the system are made known, before they can improve. Prisons no doubt will grow as the population grows . Well run prisons can help to stabilize a society. But good and ethical prison owners and operators know that prison populations should not grow at the expense of unjust treatment to good people or good citizens. And good judges, policemen, citizens know, that mandatory sentencing guidelines, take away human rights. Let's get it fixed America!