5 Reforms Trump Should Make to the Federal Bureau of Prisons


When you think of President Donald Trump, chances are you don't think of criminal justice reform. But in his position as President of the United States of America he has a large amount of direct control and persuasive authority when it comes to federal criminal justice policies. These come in the form of both executive orders and in a Republican-controlled Congress. While I won't hold my breath (and others shouldn't either), the following reforms to the Federal Bureau of Prisons would not only make America safer (through reduced rates of recidivism), but would also decrease the BOP's budget.

1. Deport Foreigners Housed in the Federal Bureau of Prisons

This one is right up Trump's alley. It makes no sense for American taxpayers to have to pay to incarcerate foreigners who violate the laws of our country. Trump holds himself out as the great deal maker of our time. Well, perhaps it's time for him to ink deals which require foreign countries to incarcerate their own citizens when they violate the laws of the United States. We already have a mechanism in place for this: the treaty transfer. Yet we still have thousands upon thousands of foreigners housed in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

2. Bring Back Federal Parole

While this sounds like a soft on crime idea, it's actually a smart on crime idea, and one that FedCURE has been calling for for the last two decades. There are many people incarcerated in federal prison who do not need to be completely incapacitated through the vehicle of incarceration. Have they violated the law? Yes. But do they need to be housed in secure facilities? No.

Trump should seriously consider bringing back federal parole so that those who are at low risk of reoffending can be managed in the community at a far reduced cost. Bringing back federal parole would allow these newly minted parolees to live life with training wheels. They could be out in their communities working and supporting their families, all the while under the supervision of a parole officer. It's a win-win for all involved. Those who are at a high risk of reoffending or otherwise prove that they can't abide by the rules could simply be returned to prison.

3. Enhance Merit-based Good Conduct Time Credits

As it currently stands, the only program that allows federal prisoners to receive a time reduction is the nine-month Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), which many prisoners don't qualify for. Those who do qualify for the reduction and complete the program can receive up to one year off.

A scheme of time credits should be put in place that allows those who are willing to put in the work to receive a corresponding benefit. For example, earn a GED, get 30 days off your sentence. An associates degree? Make it six months. A bachelors degree? Make it a year.

Likewise, complete the six-month Non-Residential Drug Abuse Program (NR-DAP), which everyone qualifies for, how about four months off? Complete the Non-Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program (NR-SOTP)? Call it six months off. Successfully complete the 10-week anger management program? How about 15 days off?

The idea isn't that these are the specific time credits that should be put in place, but that there should be a merit-based protocol that allows federal inmates to receive time off their sentences for engaging in recidivism reduction programs. The research is clear: inmates who engage in these types of programs are at a lower risk of recidivating than those who do not. And when it comes to human behavior, incentives work. Why not reward federal prisoners for doing the right thing?

4. Expand Education and Rehabilitation Programming

The Bureau of Prisons pays lip service to education and rehabilitation, but all that the majority of federal prisoners can hope for is to earn a GED, and perhaps take a few limited psychology or personal enrichment classes. This does not equate to meaningful education and rehabilitation. A computer-based system should be put in place whereby prisoners, regardless of their facility and the local culture, can log in and take modular educational (e.g., GED, high school, college, vocational, etc.), psychological (e.g., treatment programs focused on substance abuse, sexual offending, anger management, parenting, etc.), and reentry classes (e.g., how to interview for a job, how to locate housing, rules and regulation of supervised release, etc.).

5. Allow Federal Prisoners to Work

This final one is a bit more radical. The American public prefers for prisoners to be desolate and in a state of constant punishment, but is this really what is in our country's best interest? No. Economically, what is in our nation's best interest is for prisoners to learn a marketable skill. Why not allow prisoners to not only learn a marketable service skill in prison, but to then be able to render it to the public? This would allow not only real work training, but for prisoners to pay the cost of their own incarceration and to even support their families from behind bars. The focus of the Federal Bureau of Prisons should be to securely house those who must be incapacitated and to rehabilitate and train them so that they can lead law-abiding lives post-release.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com