FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 19, 2019
Contact: Loretta Kane (917-410-7242 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
Statement from JustLeadershipUSA regarding the Federal Bureau of Prisons Update
on Good Conduct Time and Risk Assessment Tools (RATs)
JustLeadershipUSA applauds the release of more than 3,100 people from federal prisons today and the 1,691 sentence reductions due to retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. However, far too many people remain incarcerated and deprived of human dignity in federal prisons across this country. While we are glad for those who will be released, we are gravely concerned for noncitizens in the released group who will face immigrant prison and possible deportation. Furthermore, the First Step Act has serious flaws and could have truly freed many more people while avoiding the tremendous harm stemming from the new Risk Assessment Tool (RAT) that was authorized under the Act.
Attorney General William Barr laid out expedited rules for evaluating the risks and needs of people in federal prison. The new tool to be used by the BOP is called the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (PATTERN) which uses both static and dynamic factors to predict “risk.” JustLeadershipUSA opposed the First Step Act due to the use and normalization of harmful technology, namely, electronic monitoring and Risk Assessment Tools. Risk assessments draw upon data created through a racist justice system and then perpetuate misconceptions and fears that further drive mass criminalization and incarceration. For people of color, static factors – such as age of arrest and zip code – tell the story of structural racism and overpoliced neighborhoods that have suffered decades of disinvestment in basic needs and overinvestment in law enforcement, resulting in children being criminalized and put into the school to prison pipeline. The only thing that this data can hep predict is discrimination and barriers faced by people with records. Policy solutions and data must not entrench misconceptions and fears, but rather eliminate them and foster true justice and equality.
The Department of Justice has also built this RAT through a closed process that allowed minimal input from justice reform advocates including directly impacted people. The purpose of the Independent Review Commission created through this Act (IRC) was to foster transparency and accountability. After passage of the Act, JLUSA and other organizations called upon the Hudson Institute, the group tasked with convening the IRC, to include a directly impacted person who opposed the First Step Act and had credible and serious concerns about the RAT. This was needed to add diverse thinking, a racial justice analysis, and rigorous input from the field. While many of our leaders have experienced the impact of RATs first hand – resulting in denial of services or being forced into unnecessary programs – our experiences or input were not included as this tool was discussed. There is not one impacted person on the IRC. We are certain that critical feedback would have mitigated the harm of this tool and created real-time transparency by identifying and addressing issues that have gone unnoticed, been deemed unimportant, and left unresolved by this group.
“JustLeadershipUSA remains opposed to RATs that only further entrench structural racism,” said JLUSA President and CEO DeAnna Hoskins. “Researchers in the fields of sociology, data science, and law have found risk assessment tools to be fundamentally flawed. Twenty-seven prominent researchers from MIT, Harvard, Princeton, NYU, UC Berkeley and Columbia have published an open statement of concern regarding the use of RATs as a means of lowering pretrial jail populations. Their concerns are merited at all points in the system. JustLeadershipUSA believes these tools are not necessary and that they only cause harm at every step of the criminal legal system, from pretrial to sentencing to evaluation for programming, supervision, and release.”
Hoskins continued: “Instead, we must focus on mass decarceration, including drastic overhauls of probation and parole – the drivers of our current mass incarceration crisis – and fight to holistically fulfill the needs of people coming home from prison and their families by providing wrap-around services that are trauma-informed. We must end structural racism and divest from bloated law enforcement budgets across the country. We must also instead make unprecedented investments in community-based violence prevention and intervention strategies, and ensure people’s basic are met separate and apart from the carceral system.”