Going forward, the Bureau of Prisons should adopt policies to align its compassionate release practices with federal courts and stop rubber-stamping denials. Almost everyone who has received compassionate release has done so from federal courts.
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A former incarcerated person offers a solution.
The bureau should also fulfill its legal obligation to fully implement the First Step Act. People remain in prison longer than necessary because the agency is failing to provide adequate programming for people to earn time credits and is calculating credits incorrectly.
“People weren’t prepared for this,” said Oscar Martinez, a resident of Valley State Prison. “I believe it created a lot of trauma for people, on top of the trauma they already had. The cell that you have in your mind, when you start suffocating in there, it’s just like cage after cage after cage.”
It’s hard to overstate the positive impact of educational and skills training on prisoner rehabilitation, said Margaret diZerega, who directs the Vera Institute of Justice’s Unlocking Potential initiative, which is focused on expanding college in prison. Given that 90% of people who are incarcerated in the U.S. will return to their communities, prisoner access to rehabilitative programming should matter to everyone, she said.
“We know from the research that these kinds of programs reduce recidivism rates. They improve safety in the prisons, there are fewer violent incidents, which is positive for the staff who work at the prisons and for the people who live in the prisons,” diZerega said.
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