Manufacturing Recidivism

Every day federal judges send men and women to prison who have committed no crime or even been accused of one. In the last year the probation department published statistics for, 2008, 11,797 people were returned to prison, few of which had even been accused of a crime. Virtually none of them were accorded a trial or any procedural safeguards, just an informal hearing in front of a judge, who always chooses to reincarcerate. They are simply serving more time for a crime they have already committed.
Under federal sentencing, virtually every defendant (approximately 95%) gets two sentences. After they complete their entire term of imprisonment, which is usually extremely lengthy, specially compared to state sentences for the same offense, they must come out on a form of federal probation. This can extend the rest of the defendants natural life, regardless of whether or not he is dangerous or likely to reoffend. If, at any time, the defendant, now called a releasee, violates an often arbitrary and pointless term of his release, or simply makes his probation officer angry, he is resentenced, yet again, for his original offense. And the judge can add yet another term of supervised release. This can occur, again, and again, and again, without any limit except the judge’s discretion. The former prisoner can pop in and out of jail for the rest of his life without ever committing a new crime. This occurs so frequently that Public Defenders have a term for it: life in installments.
This deeply unconstitutional practice is often compared to parole, and justified as essentially similar. However, parole is simply the early release from a single sentence. The parolee is getting a gift, essentially, to which they are not entitled. As bad as some of the conditions on parole may be, they are still better than prison. So it is better to serve out the rest of a sentence on conditional liberty, than none at all. Likewise, even with an unfair, or even unjust reincarceration, it deprives the parolee of nothing to which he is entitled, he is simply having his gift revoked. It is often done for no good reason, but it is just unwise, as opposed to blatantly illegal.
By contrast, the release is constitutionally entitled to his freedom at the conclusion of his term. And the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution specifically forbids multiple sentences by way of the Double Jeopardy Clause. So, unlike a parolee, when someone of release loses their freedom through these truncated procedures it is contrary to our most fundamental law. It is bad enough to give them any conditions on their required freedom, but to remove it for any reason short of the commission of a new crime, and that after a trial, is repugnant to the Constitution. Sadly, this does not stop it from constantly occurring.
The Courts pretend that release is helpful. But it is an odd sort of “help” which returns someone to prison who has done nothing wrong. Even when the releasee is not incarcerated, they can be put on house arrest, or forced into community living centers, have their licenses removed, forced to sell their homes, the list goes on. No statistics are kept of how often this occurs, though the Probation Office admits that it is a substantial number above their one in three violation record. “Special conditions” of release can forbid a releasee from associating with their family or their children, sometimes even their own spouse. People are sometimes told they can’t open up bank accounts, make purchases, hold certain jobs. Release may require the recently freed to pay for drug or mental counseling that they cannot afford, because of problems they may have had years ago. Release actively inhibits a great many people on it from actually reintegrating into society.
The costs of release, and the subsequent reincarceration, are significant. When we are supposedly trying to reform our prisons and cut unnecessary costs, one must ask why we are allowing a program that illegally imprisons over ten thousand people a year. Release costs over 400 million dollars every year. And the projected costs of the expected violations of those currently supervised is nearly 858 million dollars. This does not include the costs of the hearings themselves. More important than the dollars and cents of the matter is the human cost involved. Sending a person to prison doesn’t just affect them, after all. Their family and friends are impacted by their loss. Sending someone to prison removes a parent from a household, or a bread winning spouse. It takes away a productive employee or a confidant. These costs are an unfortunate and unavoidable consequence of punishing criminals-once-and protecting society from crime. But when the person is innocent of any wrong doing (more than 60% of all violations, just like parole or probation, are purely technical in nature and involve no dangerous or antisocial conduct) these costs cannot similarly be swept under the rug. These extra injuries deprive society of resources, and often require financial assistance for dependents, without cause.
Even someone who has committed a crime is entitled to move on with their life after they have served their time and paid their debt to society. This practice prevents them from fully paying, and allows the courts to continue to increase the debt. It is little more than an avenue for the federal government, and the courts, to continue to exercise control over the individual, long after they are required to let them go. This manufacturing of recidivism violates numerous constitutional guarantees and long settled law. Every time a Judge exercises this power, he is acting in defiance of his oath to uphold the constitution and is diminishing the legitimacy of the system in the process. It should be the job of government to protect their citizens from crime, not to create it.

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