Politics, Prisoners, Second Chance Act
By the time that I met our co-founder Michael Santos at Taft Federal Prison Camp, our country was going through a historic election. The economy was in the tank, sliding into the worst recession in recent memory. Unemployment was on the rise. I remember asking Michael why he followed politics and the political race so closely.
Michael explained to me that as federal prisoners we must live with decisions that come down from the top. The president’s perspective on governing will influence the policies that he wants to set. As a federal prisoner, Michael taught me, we must live with those policies. If the president believes that people have a capacity to change, the president will appoint an Attorney General that shares that liberal viewpoint. If the president believes that we need to preserve the systems that are in place, then the president will appoint an Attorney General that shares such a conservative viewpoint. Policy shifts in prison will reflect the perceptions of both the president and the Attorney General.
To illustrate, let us provide two recent examples of such change.
The Second Chance Act provided prison administrators with new discretion regarding halfway house placement. Prior to the Second Chance Act, leaders in The Bureau of Prisons could authorize prisoners to serve the final six months of their sentences in a halfway house. After The Second Chance Act, leaders in The Bureau of Prisons could authorize prisoners to serve the final 12 months of their sentences in a halfway house.It is not
Obviously, from a prisoner’s perspective, 12 months in a halfway house would be better than six months in a halfway house. But it was up to the Bureau of Prisons to apply the law.
The U.S. Congress passed The Second Chance Act. But leadership in the BOP has discretion. When President Obama was in office, the Attorney General was Eric Holder. Under that administration, people in federal prison could have some influence on how much halfway house time they could receive.
A review of his record will prove Michael Santos mastered federal prison. As a result of his preparations, he put himself on a pathway to get the full 12 months of halfway house. Similarly, I succeeded in getting the maximum halfway house placement that was available to me. Understanding politics from the inside of federal prison helped position us for success. Any federal prisoner willing to work can follow our success.
In 2017, President Donald Trump appointed Jeff Sessions to serve as the Attorney General.
Both President Trump and Attorney General Sessions had a different perspective. President Trump and AG Sessions had a conservative perspective, meaning that they believed that people should serve the maximum amount of time in federal prison. The 2017 administration cut funding to halfway houses.
But a master of federal prison would know how to cope with such change.
To prevail on maximum halfway house time—or any other matter pertaining to federal prison—we urge people to understand the system. Pursue a strategy to get the best possible outcome, depending upon the political philosophy of the administration in power. The strategy that may result in success during a conservative administration may differ from the strategy that could result in success in a liberal administration.
To master federal prison quickly, make sure that you understand the political philosophy on both a macro and a micro level. Then use that understanding to apply pressure to the appropriate body, in the appropriate way. By understanding stakeholders, you can craft a plan. That plan must deal with the world as it exists, and not as how we want it to be.