Continuing with the theme of the Bureau of Prisons’ seeming disregard for prisoners’ proximity to family and loved ones, as well as the ongoing problem of overcrowding, is this New York Times editorial concerning the new women’s facility in Aliceville, Alabama.
But for many of the prisoners, the rural isolation of this expensive facility will hurt their chances of returning permanently to their families and communities after doing their time. Though it is the newest federal prison for women, Aliceville does not reflect the latest thinking about criminal justice policy for incarceration of women.
Experts have long argued that prisoners should be located within a reasonable distance of their families so they can keep connections with their children. Encouraging those connections benefits the criminal justice system by reducing the odds that a prisoner will end up back in prison after she is released. The location of the Aliceville prison works against these goals.[…]
The federal Bureau of Prisons says the Aliceville prison is needed because federal secure prisons for women, holding around 5,800 prisoners, are 55 percent over capacity. The new facility, it says, will reduce overcrowding by almost half, putting the secure prisons at 31 percent over capacity — still twice as high as the bureau’s target.
But from what experts know, many female prisoners do not need to be incarcerated to protect public safety. It would be more sensible to place more of them in community-based facilities near their families and provide treatment for drug abuse and mental health problems for those who need it, as well as education and job training.
The Times links to a 2010 ABA Resolution, which, among other things, recommended that to the extent practicable, prisoners be assigned “to a facility located within a reasonable distance from the prisoner’s family or usual residence.” Also, Amy Fetting at the ACLU’s National Prison Project offered these observations in response to the editorial:
Decades of research demonstrates the success of policies that keep prisoners near their homes – and for women especially, concern for their children is most often cited as a prime motivator for successful rehabilitation.
But visits to remote Aliceville by most prisoners’ family members and children will be difficult, if not impossible. And the increased recidivism and negative effects this will have on the women prisoners, their children, and the community will be devastating.
Finally, on the issue of female prisoners serving their sentences in the community is the practical unavailability of a halfway house (a.k.a., Residential Reentry Center) bed space. The Bureau of Prisons purports to consider otherwise qualified prisoners serving relatively short sentences for direct halfway house placement. In reality, however, pre-release prisoners (i.e., those who have served time at a ‘standard’ correctional institution and are readying for re-entry) enjoy a priority for halfway house bed space, which makes direct placement virtually unobtainable in many, if not most, districts. According to evidence gathered in the course of the widespread litigation that followed the BOP’s unlawful 2002 halfway house rule change, which was ultimately undone by the Second Chance Act, this impacts females prisoners disproportionately. At that time, a hearing before U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle (D.-D.C.) established that 45 of 132 individuals (34%) affected by the direct placement rule change were women, who accounted for roughly seven percent of the total federal prisoner population. Culter v. United States, 241 F.Supp.2d 19 (D.D.C. 2003). In other words, the evidence indicated that courts were more apt to recommend female prisoners serve their sentences in the community, an option that is now largely foreclosed. Instead, there are 1,500 new beds at a secure facility in rural Alabama.