The nation’s “prison industrial complex”—which drew its name from the “military industrial complex” coined by President Eisenhower in 1959—began in earnest with President’s Reagan “Crime Control Act of 1984” and was provided with steroids through President Clinton’s “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994” and his “Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.”
These three national crime control measures, along with the advent of private prisons in the mid-1980s, created harsh mandatory minimum sentences and extended terms of imprisonment for most crimes in America that triggered a costly prison expansion movement that is continuing to have to this day serious economic and political consequences for every state in the nation.
These kinds of laws are still in effect, and the results can be seen in three recent cases involving men from Texas:
- On Oct. 31, 2017, Arturo Valladolid Jr., 43, from Laredo, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for drug trafficking. Court documents report that Valladolid was in possession of over five kilograms of cocaine and over 200 kilograms of marijuana. Valladolid pled guilty to the charges of conspiracy to possess marijuana and cocaine with an intent to import and distribute.
- In October 2017, Michael Dwain Samples, 25, of Monahans pled guilty to several charges involving drug trafficking of methamphetamine and firearm possession. He is now facing at least 10 years in prison and possibly life in prison. Samples admits to visiting Carlsbad, New Mexico with a co-defendant to buy nearly 500 grams of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.
- In July 2017, Stacey Allen Godsey and Joseph Shay Burton of Tyler pled guilty to conspiracy to import anabolic steroids. Godsey, a former chiropractor, will be spending two years in federal prison, while Burton is still awaiting sentencing. Why? Because Godsey had 60,000 units stored at his residence, and Burton had 6,000 units stored at his residence. They purchased the steroids from a Chinese supplier, converted them to liquid dosages from their original powder form, then sold those liquid dosage units to users in Tyler and other places.
Some may feel these penalties are justified given the nation’s opioid crisis. But if we’ve learned anything from the prison industrial complex over the last three decades, it is that punishment through extended incarceration, and the increased use of the death penalty, does not reduce crime or resolve its underlying causes.
“Tough on Crime” Leads to More Problems… and New Solutions
Nationwide, prisons are overcrowded while the federal recidivism rate stands at 20.7 percent and the state recidivism rate stands at 28.2 percent, according to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. Most penal experts agree that between 80 to 90 percent of the nation’s prison population could be released with only minimal risk to society—and that’s because hundreds of thousands of low level offenders have been caught up in the “law-and-order” hysteria and are now serving harsh mandatory minimum sentences.
Fortunately, Texas and a significant number of other states have started to offer prison alternatives for some who are facing long sentences. State lawmakers, some of whom originally pushed for prison expansion, now realize that if offenders in cases like the above are given the opportunity to go through a justice reinvestment initiative rather than serving long prison sentences, they have a better chance of rehabilitation and a faster return to freedom.
Today, more than 30 states have adopted justice reinvestment initiatives.
Because they’ve been incredibly successful.
Texas initiatives began in 2007.
In the past ten years, the incarceration rate in Texas has dropped 20 percent. Repeat offender rates have dropped 25 percent, and crime rates have dropped 20 percent. The state closed four prisons and saved $4 billion in costs. Texas has reinvested the savings toward resources for violent prisoners, which make up 49 percent of the current prison population.
Feds Now Looking to States for Answers
The federal government is looking at adopting a form of the states’ accountability programs, which focus on remediating an offender’s criminal behavior by addressing the root problems. These programs are not punitive, instead offering help and hope to juvenile and first-time offenders. Many states also use diversion programs that are intended to help nonviolent, low-level offenders stay out of the legal system.
Senators are reaching across the political aisle to support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. Introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the act will expand federal exceptions to minimum sentencing, and lower sentence length for low-level, non-violent crimes. Since federal prison costs eat up nearly 30 percent of the Justice Department’s overall budget, members of Congress are actively seeking ways to cut spending and refocus the funds where they are most needed –with repeat and violent offenders.
Some federal government reports indicate that in 2005, over half of all prisoners who were released were re-arrested again by 2008, many for drug crimes. Many lawmakers see that figure of recidivism as far too high, and they are looking to states like Texas for examples of programs that cut recidivism rates. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act aims to do just that.
Before being admitted to a justice reinvestment program, offenders undergo thorough evaluations. The courts assess their needs and their risks to society. If accepted, offenders receive treatment and rehabilitation that may allow them to shorten their prison sentences.
Despite the frequent headlines on violent crime, national crime rates are either declining or remaining stable in 42 states. Even the violent crime rate dropped by almost 80 percent between 1993 and 2015. States like Texas with justice reinvestment initiatives are enjoying these lower crime rates.
If you have recently been charged with a federal drug crime, you need the expertise of a lawyer with years of experience successfully handling drug cases. The majority of individuals charged with drug trafficking plead guilty without realizing that certain defenses may get them reduced sentences. Only a skilled attorney will uncover the best defenses for your unique case.
To learn if you qualify for reduced charges or for a justice reinvestment program in Texas, contact our offices today for a free initial consultation.