PRISON WORK ACT OF 1995 (Senate - June 16, 1995)

ADDITIONAL STATEMENTS (Senate - June 16, 1995)

[Page: S8564]


Mr. SHELBY. Mr. President, one of the many controversial provisions of the 1994 crime bill was the requirement that states have in place an array of dubious programs, including social rehabilitation, job skills, and even postrelease programs, in order to qualify for the prison construction grant money contained in the bill.

This requirement is yet another manifestation of the criminal rights philosophy, which has wreaked havoc on our criminal justice system. This view holds that criminals are victims of society, are not to blame for their actions, and should be rehabilitated at the taxpayers expense. In their zeal to rehabilitate violent criminals, proponents of this ideology have worked overtime to ensure that murderers, rapists, and child molesters are treated better than the victims of these acts and that these criminals have access to perks and amenities most hard-working taxpayers cannot afford.

Award-winning journalist Robert Bidinotto has revealed myriad abuses. For example, at Mercer Regional Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania, hardened criminals have routine access to a full-sized basketball court, handball area, punching bags, volleyball nets, 15 sets of barbells, weightlifting machines, electronic bicycles, and stairmasters facing a TV, so the prisoners do not have to miss their favorite show while working out.

Or consider David Jirovec, a resident of Washington State who hired two hit men to kill his wife for insurance money. His punishment? Regular conjugal visits from his new wife.

At Sullivan high-security prison in Fallsburg, NY, prisoners hold regular jam sessions in a music room crowded with electric guitars, amplifiers, drums, and keyboards.

In Jefferson City, MO, inmates run an around-the-clock closed-circuit TV studio and broadcast movies filled with gratuitous sex and graphic violence.

Perhaps the winner in the race for rehabilitation is the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Norfolk, MA. There, prisoners sentenced to life in prison--known as the Lifers Group--held its annual Lifers Banquet in the $2 million visitor's center. These 33 convicts--mostly murderers--and 49 of their invited guests dined on catered prime rib.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. These are not isolated incidents, but have become commonplace in our criminal justice system. Violent criminals have by definition committed brutal acts of violence on innocent women, children, the elderly, and other citizens. That the government continues to take money out of the pockets of law-abiding taxpayers--many of whom are victims of those behind bars--to create resorts for prisoners to mull around in is incomprehensible. The rationale for this system is likely summed up by Larry Meachum, commissioner of correction in the State of Connecticut: `We must attempt to modify criminal behavior and hopefully not return a more damaged human being to society than we received.'

Mr. President, I reject this liberal social rehabilitation philosophy. I introduced legislation yesterday, the Prison Work Act of 1995, which has a different message: prisons should be places of work and organized education, not resort hotels, counseling centers, or social laboratories. It ensures that time spent in prison is not good time, but rather devoted to hard work and education. This is a far more constructive approach to rehabilitation.

Specifically, the Prison Work Act repeals the social program requirements of the 1994 crime bill and instead makes the receipt of State prison construction grant money conditional on States requiring all inmates to perform at least 48 hours of work per week, and engage in at least 16 hours of organized educational activities per week. States may not provide to any prisoner failing to meet the work and education requirement any extra privileges, including the egregious items listed above.

The critics of this legislation are likely to portend that it is too costly or too unworkable. However, as prison reform expert and noted author John DiIulio has pointed out, one-half of every taxdollar spent on prisons goes not to the basics of security, but to amenities and services for prisoners. However, these extra perks would be severely restricted under my legislation. No one failing to meet the work and organized study requirements would have access to them, and since the inmates would be occupied for 11 hours per day fulfilling the work and study requirement, the opportunity for these costly privileges would be reduced. Moreover, to reduce operation costs even further, prison labor could be used to replace labor that is currently contracted out. Thus, these programs could easily be implemented.

The other charge will likely be that the Federal Government should not micromanage State prison efforts. However, this bill does not micromanage at all. Rather, States have been micromanaged by the Federal courts which have mandated that States provide prisoners with every possible amenity imaginable. For example, Federal Judge William Wayne Justice of the Eastern District Court required scores of changes in the Texas prison system, designed to improve the living conditions of Texas prisoners. These changes increased Texas's prison operating expenses tenfold, from $91 million in 1980 to $1.84 billion in 1994--even though the prison population only doubled.

This legislation will empower State and local prison officials to operate their systems in a cost-efficient manner, and will give them the much needed protection from the overreaching Federal courts. More importantly, it will put the justice back in our criminal justice system and ensure that criminals are not treated better than the victims.

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