A former warden at the highest-security prison in the country -- the federal supermax prison outside Florence -- has some intriguing advice for fixing the nation's troubled, budget-draining corrections system in the coming year. Intriguing, in part, because some of the changes Robert Hood urges (apparently with a straight face) are strongly at odds with policies in place at the supermax when Hood was the warden there.
Hood was the warden at the U.S. Penitenitary Administrative Maximum, or ADX, from 2002 until 2005, hosting a who's who of the most dangerous terrorists and gang leaders in captivity, including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, shoe bomber Richard Reid, plane bomber Dandenis Muñoz Mosquera, abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, and double-agent Robert Hanssen. He's retired from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and working as a private consultant; his list of resolutions for "lasting societal change in a correctional setting" appears on the Corrections One site -- and thanks to the folks at Think Outside the Cage for picking up on this gem.
Hood's first order of business is to recommend some changes for the new BOP director, Charles Samuels, to improve the federal system. The first step? "Provide greater public/media access to institutions to enhance offender reentry initiatives." Sounds good -- especially since Hood didn't allow a single journalist to have a face-to-face interview with any prisoner the entire time he was the warden at ADX, which has effectively banned such interviews for more than a decade.
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Several of Hood's other suggestions have particular resonance not only at ADX but for Colorado's state prison system. He suggests, for example, that it's time to beef up mental health services, rather than simply locking down "problem" inmates for 22 hours a day in solitary confinement: "There is an inherent disconnect between the security mission and mental health considerations." Particularly at the federal supermax, as well as in the Colorado system; a recent independent study found that four out of ten inmates at the Colorado State Penitentiary are mentally ill, and solitary is overused statewide.
Hood also thinks that reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders is a good idea. "The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population...state correctional spending has quadrupled in the last two decades and now totals $52 billion a year." But that would mean reforming Colorado's habitual criminal legislation, which is now used in one particular judicial district to send chronic but low-level offenders away for decades; are you listening, District Attorney Carol Chambers?
The former warden's other resolutions have to do with such laudable goals as putting more emphasis on re-entry programs and working to prevent children from following in their parents' criminal footsteps. But as he wryly notes, "Resolutions are much easier to make than to keep."