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As widely recognized, individuals who cooperate with law enforcement risk harm or, more often, the threat of harm. One way third parties identify cooperators is from court dockets, specifically publicly filed documents that speak to their assistance or agreements (for example, cooperation agreements). In an effort to protect cooperators, district courts take various steps to shield materials substantiating a defendant’s assistance to law enforcement from public view.

Historically, a common method is ordering cooperation agreements sealed. However, to most criminal defense practitioners and defendants, such sealed filings and related requests (multiple motions to continue sentencing) indicate the moving party’s cooperation. Courts have thus undertaken alternative methods, including enacting rules directing sealed pleadings in every case. The District of Utah is one such court. Pursuant to Local Rule DUCrimR 11-1, when a defendant pleads guilty to a federal offense, a separate, sealed “plea supplement” is docketed in conjunction with the plea agreement—the theory being that if every defendant’s docket contains a sealed filing than one cannot readily distinguish those who cooperated from those who did not.

Today, the Tenth Circuit affirmed a defendant’s objection to that practice. Michael Alexander Bacon did not cooperate with authorities and objected to a sealed supplement being docketed in his case. In refusing to sign the supplement, Mr. Bacon “explained to the court that ‘[w]hen you go off to prison and you’ve got something sealed inside your paperwork and the yard gets the paperwork and they see you’ve got a sealed document, they think you cooperated, and they want to hurt you.’” In other words, Mr. Bacon argued that he is the victim of the local rule’s unintended consequences: the rule subjected him to the potential harms associated with cooperation despite his providing no assistance to law enforcement.

The situation at FCC Beaumont has continued to draw media attention. Wednesday, BuzzFeed News published an article based on interviews with seven inmates’ relatives.

But while the high water in Beaumont was so destructive that it disabled the city’s water supply system, the federal prison located in the city did not evacuate, leaving inmates stuck in their cells as water rose as high as their ankles and the smell of sewage from backed-up toilets grew so putrid that some wrapped towels over their noses before going to sleep. Federal prison officials did not immediately respond to inquiries about the claims, which were consistent among the seven relatives — all women — of inmates who spoke to BuzzFeed News.[.…]

Four of the women who spoke to BuzzFeed News said that the inmates at the medium-security unit were given two 16-ounce bottles of water per day, along with two sandwiches (bologna or peanut butter and jelly). At the maximum-security unit, the daily water ration for each inmate was two eight-ounce bags, two women said.

Four institutions comprise the Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) in Beaumont, Texas: a United States Penitentiary (USP), a medium- and low-security Federal Correctional Institution (FCI), and a minimum-security camp. Approximately 5,400 inmates are housed between the four facilities. Given recent media account about Tropical Storm Harvey’s impact on Beaumont, Friday I e-mailed the FCC, where visitation has been suspended indefinitely. Specifically, I inquired as to whether there was any information that could be shared with attorneys and passed along to clients’ families. On Sunday afternoon, I received this response:

At this time, the power has been restored to FCC Beaumont, and generator power is no longer being used. The Inmate Telephone System (ITS) is currently operational. The FCC continues to use its own reserve of water to operate the Complex. There is ample food and bottled water for inmates and staff.

The response is consistent with updates the institution has been providing. However, Beaumont inmates and their loved ones are telling a different story. Friday’s Houston Chronicle included an account from one FCI inmate:

CTSTAR-logo-rgbLike a growing number of jurisdictions, the District of Connecticut has a Support Court program (reentry court) that works closely with individuals on federal supervised release, as well as a select number of defendants who have plead guilty and are awaiting sentencing. The program has been an incredible asset since its inception. However, like many useful programs, it wants for funding. In this regard, CT Star has started a fundraising effort. In particular, CT Star is enlisting the help of judges, attorneys, court personnel, etc. to volunteer to run in the October 8 Hartford Marathon.

Although the first time since the 2002 D.C. Marathon that I’ve run (in the training sense), I have registered for the half-marathon at the persistent urging of my friend and colleague Audrey Felsen. This is a great cause and one to which I hope you can donate.

Click here for my fundraising page. Knowing that there are those willing to help CT Star meet (and hopefully far exceed) it’s $7,500 goal, will definitely serve as encouragement on those days I’d rather do anything then get up early and get in some miles. More than that, however, the moneys will prove invaluable to a population that is too often overlooked, namely individuals committed to getting their lives back on track. It is only with the help of Support Court and you that a greater array of services can be provided. PLEASE DONATE NOW!!!

Last week, Inspector General Michael Horowitz sent a memorandum to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General concerning “Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing the Department of Justice.” The first identified challenge? Addressing the Persisting Crisis in the Federal Prison System,” namely the system’s ever escalating cost, which consumes a significant percent of DOJ’s budget, and safety and security issues stemming from chronic overcrowding.

Containing the Cost of the Federal Prison System

The costs to operate and maintain the federal prison system continue to grow, resulting in less funding being available for the Department’s other critical law enforcement missions. Although the size of the federal prison population decreased for the first time since 1980, from 219,298 inmates at the end of FY 2013 to 214,149 inmates at the end of FY 2014, and the Department now projects that the number of inmates will decrease by 10,000 in FY 2016, the downward trend has yet to result in a decrease in federal prison system costs. For example, in FY 2000, the budget for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) totaled $3.8 billion and accounted for about 18 percent of the Department’s discretionary budget. In comparison, in FY 2014, the BOP’s enacted budget totaled $6.9 billion and accounted for about 25 percent of the Department’s discretionary budget. During this same period, the rate of growth in the BOP’s budget was almost twice the rate of growth of the rest of the Department. The BOP currently has more employees than any other Department component, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and has the second largest budget of any Department component, trailing only the FBI.  The Department’s leadership has acknowledged the dangers the rising costs of the federal prison system present to the Department’s ability to fulfill its mission in other areas. Nevertheless, federal prison spending continues to impact the Department’s ability to make other public safety investments, as the Department’s FY 2015 budget request for the BOP is a 0.5 percent increase from the enacted FY 2014 level.

Our work has identified several funding categories where rising prison costs will present particularly significant challenges in future years. For example, inmate healthcare costs constitute a rapidly growing portion of the federal prison system budget. According to BOP data, the cost for providing healthcare services to inmates increased 55 percent from FY 2006 to FY 2013. The BOP spent over $1 billion on inmate healthcare services in FY 2013, which nearly equaled the entire budget of the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Continue Reading ›

Graduation season is approaching, which means a lot of young people will be receiving copies of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! While flying to Terre Haute earlier this week, I starting thinking about the prisons and jails to which I’ve gone over the years and decided to make a list—list making being fundamental to the Internet. Below is an admittedly incomplete rundown. Suffice it to say that neither when graduating high school or college did the idea of frequent trips to prisons and jails cross my mind. And, it was not until years later, upon discovering that my birth mother read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters & Papers from Prison throughout her pregnancy, that a career of working for and on behalf of the accused and prisoners began to seem more than mere happenstance.

• Alexandria Detention Center (VA)

• Albany County Correctional Facility (NY)

• Allenwood FCI (PA)

• Arlington County Detention Facility (VA)

• Atlanta USP (GA) Continue Reading ›

Nothwithstanding decades long growth of the prison industrial complex, it seemed we reached a cultural nadir last year when it was announced that Florida Atlantic University intended to name its football stadium after The GEO Group, a private prison corporation, in return for a $6 million “gift” to the university’s athletic department. (Inasmuch as FAU’s team is The Owls, people soon began calling the stadium Owlcatraz.).

The news was rightly met with widespread backlash and protests, and The GEO Group withdrew the gift (apparently unwilling to honor the donation and forego the stadium naming rights). Now comes word that UK-based gaming company Introversion Software plans to soon release a full version of Prison Architect, a sim-style game where players design and manage penitentiaries.

In a guest editorial on Kotaku, Paolo Pedercini offers a thoughtful critique of the game, including the many moral and ethical issues it raises as well as the hypothetical benefits it may produce. Still-and-all, there is something fundamentally untoward about a “game” premised on a process that dehumanizes and disenfranchises untold millions. It is sad but telling that more than 300,000 pre-order versions of the game have already been sold (for $10 million).

This morning, at 10:00am ET, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled “Oversight of the Bureau of Prisons & Cost-Effective Strategies for Reducing Recidivism.” According to a press release from the office of Judiciary Chair Senator

Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.):

The hearing, which will be chaired by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), is part of the Committee’s regular oversight function and will also explore cost-effective ways to reduce recidivism. The government spends $6.4 billion annually on federal prisons, which is around one-quarter of the Department of Justice budget. The Judiciary Committee held in September a hearing on mandatory minimum sentences, and last year Leahy presided over a hearing on rising prison costs.[…]

The story of Michael Santos is probably as remarkable as any of a former federal inmate. What is perhaps most astonishing is how intently focused he remains on a healthy, productive life that began soon into what would prove to be more than 26 years’ imprisonment. An article in Business Insider demonstrates the determination and resolve that define this extraordinary individual:

Santos started running 10-mile distances daily on the prison track and five miles on visiting days. He told himself he was never more than “65 miles away from a visit,” he said. Santos sometimes ran as many as 20 miles a day, in silence and without much scenery. He used the time to focus and think about his career goals.

In 2010 Santos struck up a friendship with [ex-Brocade CEO and white collar criminal Gregory Reyes], a hugely successful businessman who was doing time for back-dating corporate stock options.[…] Santos motivated Reyes to start running, and pretty soon they were doing 10 miles together. Reyes said he’d like to do a marathon.[…] One weekend they did 15 miles. The very next weekend they decided to run the full 26.2 miles on the prison track since it was May and they knew it would just get hotter. “We should just bang it out right now,” Santos remembers telling Reyes.[…]

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