By Christopher Zoukis
In July 2017, congress introduced the Prison Reform and Redemption Act – H.R.3356 — 115th Congress (2017-2018). Intended as a bill to guide the Department of Justice in the creation and use of a Post-Sentencing Risk and Needs Assessment System for the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
The assessment system looks closely at several factors: a prisoner’s risk of recidivism, rewards and incentives for participating in programs that promote reduced recidivism and productive behavior, housing for released inmates and more. The Prison Reform and Redemption Act requires the BOP to implement the assessment system and have a release preparation control coordinator at each prison.
While still in the prisons, the Act mandates the establishment of pilot programs for youth mentorship and services to rescue/treat vulnerable animals (to help prisoners build care and empathy). Furthermore, it prohibits the unjustified use of restraints on pregnant or postpartum female inmates, and calls for greater supervision over sex offenders that are on conditional release.
Under the Prison Reform and Redemption Act, the BOP is required to include de-escalation techniques in its training programs and provide reports on the onsite ability to provide medication-assisted treatment for prisoners addicted to heroin and opioids.
The main intention of the bill is to reduce recidivism, improve conditions for offenders while in prison, and keep the community safer once sex offenders are released.
Still less than a year old, the potential for impactful reform is certainly present in bill H.R.3356. In 2016, The American Psychological Association (APA) published The restraint of female inmates published by Tori DeAnelis, as a direct statement to how the organization and its members “are fighting to prevent the unnecessary shackling of pregnant female inmates — a practice that speaks to larger health and mental health needs for women in prisons and jails.”
At the time of the articles publication, 13 states did not have rules in place banning the shackling of inmates that were pregnant, in labor, or postpartum. Understanding that restraints are intended to keep prisoners from fleeing while in transport or from fighting, it has been observed that these are two things pregnant, in labor, or postpartum women are significantly less likely to do.
“For most female and pregnant inmates, the practice defies logic,” argues DeAnelis. “Statistically speaking, most female inmates are not violent offenders, so restraining them to prevent attacks on workers is largely unnecessary. Pregnant women are also unlikely to pose a flight risk. But most important, shackling — which can include the use of handcuffs, waist chains or leg irons — poses serious health risks for the woman and the fetus. These include a higher risk for falls, problems related to those falls, and barriers to providers’ ability to detect and treat pregnancy-related complications such as pre-term labor and hemorrhaging during delivery and after birth.”
Apart from correcting the erroneous idea that a woman in labor needs to be shackled, the bill’s push to reward inmates that participate in recidivism reduction programs is very promising. The regulations set forth greatly contribute to the reasons and resources for prisons across America to ramp up educational and life skill programs, which have always had a positive measurable impact on reducing recidivism and improving the chances of success for inmates upon release.
The Prison Reform and Redemption Act is a welcome leap forward for the changes that need to take place to our prison system. At some point, America should stop being known as the country with the world’s highest incarceration rate and become a country that truly reforms its offenders.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily News, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.