There have been talks since December 21st of last year regarding the government shutdown. Is it the fault of the President and his wall or Nancy and Chuck’s position on not giving anything to get something? Either way, no matter whose at fault, the shutdown is affecting over 800,000 federal employees. What it doesn’t take into account is the millions of others it is affecting as well.
In a NBC news article last month, BOP guards complained that while they were working without pay, inmates were dining on holiday meals of steak and shrimp. Well, come to find out, that story may have been fabricated. According to LawAndCrime.com, the “story appears to be largely based on information straight from the American Federation of Government Employees – the largest national correctional officers union. The story does not contain a firsthand quote from one single prisoner…[but] does provide ample opportunities for the president of the national prison workers union and the union chief at a federal prison in Florida to kvetch and moan about their employees being forced to feed inmates holiday meals.” While this may or may not be true, one thing is a fact, two BOP employees have filed suit in the United States Federal Claims court claiming that forcing BOP employees and other “essential” personnel to work without pay violates the Fair Labor and Standards Act.
It is ironic that, having discussed government misconduct so much in the past, we get a telling, perfect example of it this month. Though seemingly innocuous on its own, the lies about steak and shrimp “feasts” yet again illustrate that officials will deceive the American public to try and influence the debate about criminal justice or other policy. (This occurred a lot during the run up to the First Step Act, too.) Making up facts and statistics to deprive people of life and liberty is just another flavor of the same misconduct that has taken root in the heart of our system.
But, where does the shutdown affect prisoners and their families? Well first off, due to staff shortage, many staff members from places such as psychology, education, or health services are being “augmented” to fill the shortages. Thus, programming, mental health treatment and some possible life-saving measures are being neglected. Other prisons have reported that visitation has been cancelled.
At one facility, inmates were told by the food service administrator that they were not allowed to order any more food. Granted, most warehouses have enough of a supply to last a while, this is another lie. Congress approved appropriations for food and medical services in the BOP already and it covers the entire fiscal year. Now, not everything in the BOP was covered. For instance, the staff salaries were not part of that appropriation bill, but, several states are allowing furloughed or non-paid federal workers to apply for temporary unemployment insurance. Despite rumor, unemployment insurance does not mean you have to be 100% unemployed, you can be underemployed and not working more than so many hours. Even though unemployment insurance is a federal program, it is usually ran by each individual state. So several employees do have other options to receive funding. A local credit union in Springfield, Missouri, which serves several government employees at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, is offering no interest loans for those with approved credit and a minimum $5 deposit if they are a member. This is according to a news article from the Springfield News-Leader.
Another rumor is that inmates are being paid from Congressional funding. This is another lie. The Inmate Work and Performance Pay program statement says that any funds sent to inmates are to be deposited into a trust fund. After paying off necessary expenses (which includes Trust Fund Staff salaries), the remaining profit (after a 30%-40% markup) can be used only for programs and services that would benefit the inmate population as a whole. This includes the payroll. So the money you are being paid is your own money that is being distributed AFTER the BOP has taken out their “cut” per se.
Several courts have also placed holds on several court cases. One inmate from the Western District of Tennessee provided #BackSoSoon with an order granting a stay until either an appropriations bill or continuing resolution is passed by Congress. Until that time, the civil division (which handles 2241, 2255 and civil rights motions) is prohibited from working, even on a voluntary basis, except for one very limited exception (which it did not list). However, many criminal cases are still ongoing, but may be delayed. So how does this apply for instance to the speedy trial clause? Well, we are reviewing this. If you have pending federal charges and have not been brought before a federal magistrate within a reasonable time period, normally you can petition to have the charges dismissed, but with the shutdown, there is no telling how this will work.
In addition to this, several inmates who have filed Bivens claims or tort claims are forced to suffer the injustice even longer. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts have stated that it has funding to continue to operate only until this Friday. After that, there is no telling what will happen?
As of Monday, the shutdown has entered day 24 and now holds the record for the longest government shutdown in United States history with no apparent end in site. The White House is reporting that the shutdown could last through February until March. Until that time though, neither side seems to be budging and while they are playing who has the biggest balls, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans, continue to suffer because of what former WWE wrestler Razor Ramon would call too much “machismo”.
Last week, we informed you a judge found that the BOP had until July to implement the extra good days. If you would be released earlier than that, and this deprives you of your entitlement, you should still file. Why?
1) The intent of Congress is clear. This change was to be immediate. The BOP’s reading, while not implausible, frustrates Congress’ intent. Even under Chevron deference, therefore, it is wrong.
2) The good time law is self-executing, and the amendment to that law, read in that law itself, carries no delay. To the contrary, it says good time for the final year shall vest at the beginning of the year.
3) Even under the BOP’s interpretation, they still have an obligation to ensure every inmate gets what Congress intended. Refusing to recalculate those with short term releases violates the written text, no matter how we interpret it.
Don’t let one judge’s deference deter you from pursuing what you are entitled to. The extra seven days are a purely ministerial task, easily accomplished. They don’t need six more months; they need to be held to account.