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Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Statement of Charles E. Samuels, Jr.

Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons

Before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary

For a Hearing on the Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons October 22, 2013

Good morning, Chairmen Leahy and, Whitehouse, Ranking Members Grassley and Graham, and Members of Committee. I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss the operations, achievements, and challenges of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Bureau). While I was appointed Director in December 2011, I have been with the Bureau for nearly 25 years, having started as a correctional officer and then holding many positions including Warden and Assistant Director.

I cannot begin without acknowledging that this past February the Bureau suffered tragic losses with the murders of two of our staff. On February 25th, Officer Eric Williams, a Correctional Officer at the United States Penitentiary in Canaan, Pennsylvania, was working in a housing unit when he was stabbed to death by an inmate. The death of Officer Williams reminds all of us that our work on behalf of the American people is dangerous. Every day when our staff walks into our institutions they willingly put their lives on the line to protect society, one another, and inmates in their care. On February 26th, Lieutenant Osvaldo Albarati was shot and killed while driving home from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. This incident is still under investigation. We will always honor the memories of Officer Williams and Lt. Albarati, and their losses further underscore the challenges the dedicated men and women working for the Bureau face daily. While there are many facets to our operations, the foundation for it all is the safe, secure, and orderly operation of institutions, and each and every staff member in the Bureau is critical to this mission.

The mission of the Bureau is two-fold: to protect society by confining offenders in prisons and community-based facilities that are safe, humane, cost-efficient, and appropriately secure, and to ensure that inmates are actively participating in reentry programming that will assist them in becoming law-abiding citizens when they return to our communities. I am deeply committed to both parts of the mission. Yet continuing increases in the inmate population pose ongoing challenges for our agency. As the nation’s largest correctional agency, the Bureau is responsible for the incarceration of over 219,000 inmates. System-wide, the Bureau is operating at 36 percent over rated capacity and crowding is of special concern at higher security facilities, with 51 percent crowding at high security facilities and 45 percent at medium security facilities. We are grateful for the support Congress recently provided to activate new facilities in Berlin, New Hampshire; Hazelton, West Virginia; Yazoo, Mississippi; and Aliceville, Alabama. When fully activated, these facilities will assist us somewhat with reducing crowding for our inmates; however, even with these institutions coming online, decreasing our crowding remains a critical challenge.

The safety of staff is always a top priority, and we use all available resources to secure our institutions. We continue to take a variety of steps to mitigate the effects of crowding in our facilities, and are confident the policy changes the Attorney General recently announced to recalibrate America s federal criminal justice system will provide us even more assistance. These changes, part of the Department of Justice s (Department) "Smart on Crime" initiative, will help ensure that federal resources are used more efficiently by focusing on top law enforcement priorities.

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How Much Money Should I Send My Incarcerated Loved One? An Interview With Prison Expert Christopher Zoukis

By Randy Radic

Christopher Zoukis, a 27-year-old federal prisoner, is the
author of Education Behind Bars: A Win-Win
Strategy for Maximum Security
(Sunbury Press, 2012), a contributing writer
for Prison Legal News, and a regular
commentator on prison matters in the penal press.  He has navigated the troublesome waters of
incarceration for the past 8 years, in both federal and state prisons and at
the medium and low security levels. 
Today I sit down with Mr. Zoukis to discuss the complex issue of
determining how much money family members and friends of the incarcerated
should send to those in prison.

Randy Radic: In
my duties as the senior editor at Middle Street Publishing and the chief editor
of the Prison Law Blog, I often receive inquiries from family members and
friends of the incarcerated concerning how much money is appropriate to send to
those in prison.  I find this question
hard to answer since it is so subjective. 
What are your thoughts on how much money is appropriate to send
incarcerated friends and family members?

Christopher Zoukis:
Subjective is most certainly the word here. 
The first two questions those outside of prison should ask are: What
prison system is their loved one or friend incarcerated within and what is the
allowable monthly or weekly spending limit at the prison (if any)?  This should be the starting point of any
determination on how much money is appropriate to send to an incarcerated loved
one or friend.

My experience is with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the
North Carolina Department of Corrections. 
As such, I can provide specific information for these two prison
systems.  In the Federal Bureau of
Prisons, federal prisoners can spend $320 per month ($370 in November and
December) on commissary items.  This
doesn’t include over-the-counter medications, copy cards, or postage
stamps.  In the North Carolina Department
of Corrections, prisoners can spend up to $40 per week in the institutional
commissary.

With these numbers in mind, anything up to $320 per month
for federal prisoners and $160 per month for prisoners in the North Carolina
Department of Corrections would allow them to live very comfortably.  This would easily place them in the top one
percent of those incarcerated within the respective prison systems.

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Prison Law Blog Announces Prison Survival Reports Service; Reader Input Sought

By Christopher Zoukis

For the past several months we at the Prison Law Blog have been searching for ways to better answer your questions about the Federal Bureau of Prisons, prisoners’ rights, and prison survival.  We have been seeking ways to delve more comprehensively into the realm of prison life so that those soon-to-be-incarcerated, those already incarcerated, and  those who work with or know the incarcerated will have better information upon which to understand incarceration and the rights of prisoners. 

In our search for effective information dissemination methodologies, we have increased our publication volume on the Prison Law Blog by coming to content sharing agreements with Prison Legal News, Jean Trounstine’s Justice With Jean blog, and other media outlets (both online and in print).  We have invited guest bloggers — experts in the prison consulting and prison survival realms — to contribute their voices through interviews and articles.  We have even penned a book about prison survival — which is currently being reviewed by literary agents for representation consideration — and are currently working on another book which profiles every institution within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  Long story short, we have strived to be innovative, unique, and active in all of our efforts.  We feel that we have succeeded on all three counts.

Now we’re back at it again with our Prison Survival Reports service.  The Prison Survival Reports service is a concept which we have been mentally toying with for quite some time and are now ready to start working on.  We plan on producing downloadable Prison Survival Reports which delve into all areas of the arrest, incarceration, and release arenas.  These reports will cover all manner of criminal justice topics which the Prison Law Blog readership will find of interest.  Several Prison Survival Report topics, which we are considering researching, are as follows:

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Seeking Transfers in the Federal Bureau of Prisons: An Interview With Prison Consultant Jack Donson

By Christopher Zoukis

A growing and troubling trend has emerged within the prison consulting industry: persons spending time in prison, being released, and opening their doors as prison consultants, when they really have no business doing so in the first place.  This also applies to attorneys who have no real experience with the Federal Bureau of Prisons or state departments of correction, yet still advertise that they can assist with in-prison matters.  While there are a few glowing examples of how this can work out for the best (Brandon Sample and Michael Santos are two examples of ex-prisoners, and Alan Ellis and Todd Bussert are examples of attorneys who know what they are doing), there are also firms which operate on hope, fear, and a swindler’s charm.  One of the areas these swindlers profit immensely from is in allegedly brokering transfers for currently incarcerated inmates.  This interview serves as a warning against such swindlers, and aims to alert Prison Law Blog readers as to how the process actually works and how federal prisoners themselves can attempt to effect prison transfers on their own.

Jack Donson is the president of My Federal Prison Consultants (www.MFPCLLC.com).  During his career as a Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Case Manager and Case Management Coordinator (CMC), Jack was an integral part of the prison transfer process.  Currently, in Jack’s consulting business, he has come across many family members of prisoners who are concerned for their loved ones and have been scammed by nefarious “prison consultants.”  Due to this growing trend, he has asked to speak publicly about this matter, and the Prison Law Blog is glad to provide the platform for him to do so.

Christopher Zoukis: To start, please introduce yourself again to the Prison Law Blog readership.

Jack Donson: My name is Jack Donson.  I retired from Federal Bureau of Prisons’ in 2011 after a 23-year career as case manager and case management coordinator.  Currently, my principle employment is as the President of My Federal Prison Consultants (www.MFPCLLC.com), a Manhattan-based prison consulting firm.  I’m also the Director of Programs and Case Management at FedCURE, a Special Issues Chapter of Citizens United for the Reformation of Errants (CURE).  In addition, I serve as Executive Director for a new advocacy organization called Out For Good (O4G) and serve on the corrections committees of the ABD and NACDL.  I am very much plugged into the federal prison reform movement, legislation and the prison consulting arena.

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FBOP Announces Annual Inmate Perception of Care Survey

By Christopher Zoukis

 While an odd thought to present, ever since the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) implemented the TRULINCS computer system — and followed it with the MP3 player program — the FBOP has appeared to be on the right track in terms of communicating with the federal inmate population.  This idea has presented itself through more frequent announcements to the prison population (via the TRULINCS Electronic Bulletin Board), inmate institutional perception/character surveys, and now the instant Inmate Perception of Care Survey.  It’s the latter which will be presented publicly today.

In an effort to make federal incarceration more transparent, the Prison Law Blog has obtained a document entitled “Note to the Inmate Population: English and Spanish Informed Consent.”  This document explains what the Inmate Perception of Care Survey is, how it can be participated in, and other components of this study.  The English information contained therein is presented below for the Prison Law Blog readership’s perusal:

_________________

Notice to the Inmate Population

English and Spanish Informed Consent

The Annual Inmate Perception of Care Survey will be available by region and you will receive local notice when the survey will be turned on for your institution.  Please read over the following disclosure statement and consider taking the survey when it becomes available.

NCR [North Central Region] and NER [North East Region] August 19-September 1, 2013

MXR [Mid-Atlantic Region] and SCR [South Central Region] September 2-15, 2013

SER [South East Region] and WXR [Western Region] September 16-29, 2013

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Religious Programs in the Federal Bureau of Prisons

By Christopher Zoukis

Inmates incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons have access to a number of religious programs at their local prison facility.  While religious service offerings depend on locality and security level, all federal prisoners in general population status can expect to have access to a Religious Services Department where they can explore and strengthen their spirituality.  Those in more restrictive settings (e.g., control units, Special Housing Units, administrative housing, etc.) enjoy less access to religious programming.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ website, “Institutions schedule religious services and meeting times for inmates of many faiths.  Religious programs are led or supervised by staff chaplains, contract spiritual leaders, and community volunteers.  Chaplains oversee inmate self-improvement forums such as scripture study and religious workshops, and provide pastoral care, spiritual guidance, and counseling.”  All such activities are facilitated in a federal prison’s Religious Services Department.

In a typical federal prison, the Religious Services Department offers a number of religious programs each week.  All major religions are represented in such services.  For example, at FCI Petersburg, Buddhist, Jewish, Rastafarian, and Wiccan faith groups all have one service a week and one study a week.  This amounts to around 3 hours of worship and study time, respectively.  Other groups, for example, the Christians at FCI Petersburg, have several additional services due to a Christian rock band’s practice slot, the Christian choir’s practice slot, and additional time afforded for impromptu worship sessions.  While it can be hard for “lesser” religions to gain a foothold in a federal prison’s chapel (e.g., the Buddhists, Wiccans, Hare Krishnas, and Santerias at FCI Petersburg have had some problems with this), with agitation, some of the extra Christian worship, fellowship, and hang-out slots can be afforded to groups which have minimal worship slots attributed to their group.

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