Government folks have such a way with words.
Case in point: A federal watchdog report published Tuesday exposes the “untimely release” of inmates from federal prisons.
“Untimely” probably seems a bit mild to the individual who was released 928 days late, almost three years, because of an error by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
Then, the agency didn’t have the decency to offer the convict even a dime for this extra time.
That’s one case study from the report released by Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general (IG). His office says there were “157 untimely releases attributable to staff error” between 2009 and 2014. Of those, only five inmates were released too soon. The other 152 served too much time.
Given the 462,000 people released during those years, BOP made few mistakes. Sixty percent of the inmates released late were set free within a month of the correct date and 38 percent were freed from 31 days to one year late. But each case represents a serious lapse for people incarcerated longer than they should have been.
“Although these cases were rare and the overall error rate was low, several of these errors led to egregious results,” Horowitz said.
“Two other inmates were incarcerated more than a year longer than they should have been. Another 58 stayed at least a month past when their sentence should have ended.
“Being released from prison late is unjust and raises serious civil liberties concerns,” he added. “Early releases, meanwhile, can put communities at risk.”
The report does not name inmates, but a footnote cites newspaper articles about Jermaine Hickman. The IG’s study credits news reports about Hickman for prompting the review of BOP’s procedures on ensuring inmates are set free on time. He was released 13 months late from the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn.
In a 2014 article, the StarTribune in Minneapolis said the U.S. attorney there suggested it was Hickman’s fault he was locked up too long because he did not file a formal grievance with BOP.
His lawyer, Steve Meshbesher, told the Federal Insider Hickman’s situation had two components – incompetence and race.
“If my client had been a stockbroker from a wealthy background and white,” Meshbesher said, “he would not have been held that long.”
In response to the report, a Justice Department spokesman, Patrick Rodenbush, said the overall accuracy rate for timely release over a six-year period was 99.97 percent. The department’s written response included in the IG report said its “presentation and imprecise use of the term ‘untimely release’ continues to be significantly misleading and blurs the critical distinction between miscalculated prison sentences due to BOP staff error (157), versus ‘untimely releases’ for other, non-erroneous reasons,” which the agency says is more than 4,000 other cases.
“That being said, the Department of Justice is already taking affirmative steps to implement the recommendations of the Office of the Inspector General to further reduce instances of inappropriate untimely releases occurring,” according to Rodenbush.
Horowitz’s office found the vast majority of mistakes, 127 of the 157, “were the result of errors made by the BOP office responsible for computing inmate release dates. The most common errors resulted from incorrect application of jail credit, incorrect determinations of primary jurisdiction between federal and state custody, and errors relating to concurrent versus consecutive sentences.”
One person was incarcerated 541 days longer than ordered because jail time credit was not applied to the prison sentence — “a serious deprivation of the inmate’s liberty,” the report said.
Late releases also are costly to taxpayers. The 152 late releases costs BOP in $670,000 extra incarceration cost, the IG estimate. That doesn’t include litigation and settlement expenses. Between 2009 and 2015, four lawsuits by inmates held too long were settled for between $90,000 and $295,000.
Hickman settled for $175,000, but that doesn’t begin to pay him back.
“That’s lost time I’ll never get back,” he told the StarTribune, “lost time with my kids and family, lost time that they never get back, as well.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Joe Davidson