One of the main factors of supervised release-that it was not supposed to be punishment at all, but was meant to help the individual reintegrate into society-has largely been forgotten. Yet, it is something that courts should be reminded of, and the petition should explain how any challenged condition impedes this goal. Pointing out the real world consequences of a condition are far more likely to sway any judge than a legal argument, and many judges have modified conditions on this basis alone.
To take two common conditions as an example, lets use the computer ban and restrictions on association, and see how this would apply.
Many sex offenders and other online offenders have prohibitions or severe limitations on how they can use computers or the internet. Unfortunately, today, the majority of jobs require some kind of computer use. Even McDonald’s cash registers today are computers, and this is a basic, entry level job. Forbidding an individual from any computer use, then may prohibit them from finding employment. Requiring monitoring software may also be a no-go, as the computer may be incompatible with the system, or the business may be unwilling to open their system to a third party or to spend money on the software.
Likewise, telling an offender he may not be around his own children, or other minor family members, prohibits him in may ways from participating in meaningful relationships that are essential to succeeding in everyday life. Reconnecting with family and friends is one of the factors Congress has found necessary to prevent recidivism. For a parent, there are few things more important than being part of their children’s lives.
Indeed, many conditions make recidivism more likely, which fails to advance ANY of the goals of supervised release. Society has no desire to push releasees into committing more crimes. Yet, through sheer thoughtlessness, we do just that. Every obstacle put into a releasee’s path, making it harder to live a normal, law abiding life, indirectly makes it more attractive to fall back into old habits. It is hard enough to succeed upon release from prison without adding more difficulties.
It is not that judges are doing this deliberately. Many are so used to their routine that they never truly consider the effects of their pronouncements. A great example was the judge in United States v Trotter in New York, who JUST realized, after well over a decade, that sending people to prison for things that weren’t criminal was not helpful! As obvious and common sense as this was, it escaped him for years. Sometimes all they need is someone to hold their hands and walk them through it.
With this, you have a basic understanding of requesting modification. It is my sincerest hope that any who try for this succeed, as this has become one of the most broken parts of the system. Our next article will look at this from a different perspective.