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Ex-Federal Prison Chief: Rethink Our Approach to Incarceration

Federal prisons are in crisis, riddled with deep and systemic ills that won’t be cured by simply replacing the agency director, writes former acting Bureau of Prisons chief Hugh Hurwitz in The Hill. Michael Carvajal, appointed last year, became the sixth director or acting director in just five years. The reality is that one person can only do so much, Hurwitz says. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) called for Carvajal's removal based on an Associated Press report that numerous federal prison workers have been arrested, convicted or sentenced for crimes since the start of 2019. Corruption and other malfeasance within prison systems are not uncommon. As Durbin noted, “it’s clear that there is much going wrong in our federal prisons, and we urgently need to fix it.”...


Hurwitz maintains that, "We must rethink our overall approach to incarceration to ensure that only the right people — those who need to be separated from society or require intensive reentry programming — are confined for the appropriate amount of time." This includes "common-sense sentencing reforms," such as a greater reliance on drug courts, community service and other alternatives to prison and eliminating mandatory minimum penalties for drug crimes. It also means better prisoner reentry programs. Hurwitz says Congress should close some of the nation's oldest and costliest federal prisons. He says, "Shuttering these aging lock-ups, some of which are more than a century old, would allow the BOP to reallocate staff and resources to the remaining facilities, improving safety and security while strengthening programs and services." He backs the recommendation of a Council on Criminal Justice’s Task Force to establish an independent oversight board for BOP that would "provide political cover for harder choices that agency leaders and elected officials are sometimes reluctant or unable to make."

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