Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) is demanding answers from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) on why it hasn’t acted on recommendations made last May by the Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general to reduce incorrect incarceration release dates.
First, a little history: Jermaine Hickman, convicted in 2007 of bank robbery, was supposed to be released from a federal prison in Minnesota in October 2012. But his eventual release in November 2013, through no fault of his own, came 13 months after his sentence should have ended. BOP explained the late release was the result of an incorrect computation by its staff, but said no particular individual could be blamed.
Grassley termed Hickman’s story an “egregious deprivation of liberty.” It garnered significant publicity, which increased when Hickman sued over his overtime incarceration, and ultimately collected a $175,000 settlement. The snafu also drew attention from Congress, which ordered the DOJ inspector general to investigate and report back.
The IG’s 41-page report, issued last May, found Hickman was far from alone in having served time beyond his sentence. Looking at a six-year period (2009 to 2014), it found that, for various reasons — often stemming from incorrect communications from local jails or state prisons — more than 4,000 federal inmates had served incorrect amounts of time.
For 157 federal inmates, the incorrect incarceration periods were found to be attributable to BOP staff errors. One inmate served more than three years too long, and in addition to Hickman, two other inmates were incarcerated for over a year too long. Only five inmates were found to have been released too early due to BOP errors. Of those 157 incorrect release dates attributable to BOP staff errors, 127 involved mistakes by the agency’s Designation and Sentencing Commutation Center; the remaining 30 were due to errors by BOP staff elsewhere, such as in BOP prisons, residential re-entry field offices, re-entry centers, or private prisons under contract to BOP.
The IG’s report included seven recommendations for steps BOP could take to prevent similar errors in the future. But, despite DOJ’s indications it concurred with those recommendations, by the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year 2016, BOP had neither responded to the DOJ inspector general’s information requests (due a month earlier), nor explained what, if anything, it had done, or planned to do, to implement the IG’s recommendations.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of the Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016) and College for Convicts(McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to The Huffington Post, New York Daily News and Prison Legal News. This article is partially adapted from the Federal Prison Handbook. He can be found online at PrisonerResource.com