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American Corrections System Keeps Growing

   PEW CHARITABLE TRUSTS - 11/11/2014 - Explosive growth in the number of people on probation or parole has propelled the population of the American corrections system to more than 7.3 million, or 1 in every 31 U.S. adults, according to a recent report by the Pew Center on the States. The vast majority of these offenders live in the community, yet new data in the report finds that nearly 90 percent of state corrections dollars are spent on prisons. One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections examines the scale and cost of prison, jail, probation and parole in each of the 50 states, and provides a blueprint for states to cut both crime and spending by reallocating prison expenses to fund stronger supervision of the large number of offenders in the community.  
   Most states are facing serious budget deficits,” The Pew Center Managing Director on the States Susan Urahn said. “Every single one of them should be making smart investments in community corrections that will help them cut costs and improve outcomes.”
   In the past two decades, state general fund spending on corrections increased by more than 300 percent, outpacing other essential government services from education, to transportation and public assistance. Only Medicaid spending has grown faster. Today, corrections imposes a national taxpayer burden of $68 billion a year. Despite this increased spending, recidivism rates have remained largely unchanged.
   Research shows that strong community supervision programs for lower-risk, non-violent offenders not only cost significantly less than incarceration but, when appropriately resourced and managed, can cut recidivism by as much as 30 percent. Diverting these offenders to community supervision programs also frees up prison beds needed to house violent offenders, and can offer budget makers additional resources for other pressing public priorities.
   One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections provides a detailed look at who is in the corrections system and which states have the highest populations of offenders behind bars and in the community. Key findings include:

  • One in 31 adults in America is in prison or jail, or on probation or parole. Twenty-five years ago, the rate was 1 in 77.
  • Overall, two-thirds of offenders are in the community, not behind bars. 1 in 45 adults is on probation or parole and 1 in 100 is in prison or jail. The proportion of offenders behind bars versus in the community has changed very little over the past 25 years, despite the addition of 1.1 million prison beds.
  • Correctional control rates are highly concentrated by race and geography: 1 in 11 black adults (9.2 percent) versus 1 in 27 Hispanic adults (3.7 percent) and 1 in 45 white adults (2.2 percent); 1 in 18 men (5.5 percent) versus 1 in 89 women (1.1 percent). The rates can be extremely high in certain neighborhoods. In one block-group of Detroit's East Side, for example, 1 in 7 adult men (14.3 percent) is under correctional control.
  • Georgia, where 1 in 13 adults is behind bars or under community supervision, leads the top five states that also include Idaho, Texas, Massachusetts, Ohio and the District of Columbia.

   The report also analyzes the cost of current sentencing and corrections policies. The National Association of State Budget Officers estimates that states spent a record $51.7 billion on corrections in FY2008, or 1 in every 15 general fund dollars. Adding local, federal and other funding brings the national correctional spending total to $68 billion.
   While total correctional spending figures have been available before, new data collected by the Pew Center on the States for the report provides the first breakdown of correctional spending by prisons, probation and parole in the past seven years:

  • In FY 2008, the 34 states for which data are available spent $18.65 billion on prisons (88 percent of corrections spending), but only $2.52 billion on probation and parole (12 percent).
  • For eight states where 25 years of data were available, spending on prisons grew by $4.74 billion from FY 1983 to FY 2008, while probation and parole spending increased by only $652 million. This means that while prisons accounted for one-third of the population growth, they consumed 88 percent of the new corrections expenditures.
  • The 33 states that were able to provide data reported spending as much as 22 times more per day to manage prison inmates than to supervise offenders in the community. The reported average inmate cost was $79 per day, or nearly $29,000 per year. The average cost of managing an offender in the community ranged from $3.42 per day for probationers to $7.47 per day for parolees, or about $1,250 to $2,750 a year.

   “Violent and career criminals need to be locked up, and for a long time. But our research shows that prisons are housing too many people who can be managed safely and held accountable in the community at far lower cost,” Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project Director Adam Gelb said. “New community supervision strategies and technologies need to be strengthened and expanded, not scaled back. Cutting them may appear to save a few dollars, but it doesn't. It will fuel the cycle of more crime, more victims, more arrests, more prosecutions, and still more imprisonment.”
   One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections provides states with a blueprint and specific case studies for strengthening their community corrections systems, saving money and reducing crime. Research-based recommendations include:
  • Sort offenders by risk to public safety to determine appropriate levels of supervision;
  • Base intervention programs on sound research about what works to reduce recidivism;
  • Harness advances in supervision technology such as electronic monitoring and rapid-result alcohol and drug tests;
  • Impose swift and certain sanctions for offenders who break the rules of their release but who do not commit new crimes; and
  • Create incentives for offenders and supervision agencies to succeed, and monitor their performance. 
Source: Pew Charitable Trusts

Approval of 'Enlist Duo' Weed Killer Criticized

   Washington, D.C. – 10/26/2014 - Officials with the Environmental Working Group said on October 15 that they were “deeply disappointed” that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had decided to approve a toxic weed killer known as Enlist Duo, despite overwhelming opposition from the scientific and public health community.
   Enlist Duo, manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company, is a toxic combination of the herbicide 2,4-D and glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. The EPA’s decision means Dow can sell Enlist Duo in conjunction with its new genetically engineered products, 2,4-D-tolerant corn and soybean seeds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently approved Dow’s application to market these seeds.
   Dow has announced plans to start marketing Enlist Duo in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
   “The EPA ignored science pointing to the serious health risks – especially to children – associated with 2,4-D,” said Mary Ellen Kustin, EWG’s senior policy analyst. “Giving a chemical company the green light to bring a known harmful weed killer to market for use on millions of acres of crops puts public health and the environment in danger.”
   Last summer, 35 doctors and scientists warned the EPA against expanding the use of 2,4-D, highlighting links between pesticide exposure and health problems such as suppressed immune function and greater risk of Parkinson’s disease. Later, 50 members of Congress asked EPA and USDA to reconsider their approval of the 2,4-D-tolerant seeds and weed killer.
The USDA estimates that use of 2,4-D will triple by 2020, compared to current usage. EWG research shows that more than 480 elementary schools nationwide are within 200 feet of corn and soybean fields that could be sprayed with 2,4-D.
   “Children who are most vulnerable and susceptible to these toxic weed killers will have an increased risk of being exposed to a defoliant linked to cancer and Parkinson’s disease,” added Kustin.
   In addition to toxicity concerns, increasing the use of weed killers could further escalate the evolution of “superweeds” resistant to known herbicides.
   “This continued arms race between chemical companies and superweeds is a threat to sustainable farming and public health,” added Kustin. “EPA’s decision to up the ante of Roundup by approving Enlist Duo is unconscionable.”
   Source: Environmental Working Group

Man Pleads Guilty In Health Care Fraud Case

  (DOJ) - 10/23/2014 - A Florida managing member of a shell company pleaded guilty today in federal court in Tampa, Florida, for his role in a multi-million dollar health care fraud and money laundering scheme.
    Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida, Acting Special Agent in Charge Derrick Jackson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Miami Regional Office and Special Agent in Charge Paul Wysopal of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office made the announcement.
    Gregory J. Sylvestri, 44, formerly of Lake Worth, Florida, pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida to two charges related to money laundering of health care fraud proceeds. His sentencing date will be set by the court at a later date. In his plea agreement, Sylvestri agreed to the forfeiture of a $60,000 platinum and diamond engagement ring that he purchased with health care fraud proceeds.
    According to his plea agreement, from June 2010 through April 2014, Sylvestri’s co-conspirators submitted over $12 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare through three purported health clinics, Cornerstone Health Specialists of Lakeland, Florida, Summit Health Specialists P.L. of Tampa, and Coastal Health Specialists LLC of Lakeland and Melbourne, Florida. These fraudulent claims included claims resulting from illegal kickback arrangements and claims for radiology, audiology, neurology and cardiology services that were never rendered. In fact, some of the services were purportedly provided to Medicare beneficiaries who had died before the supposed date of service. Medicare paid over $2,500,000 in reimbursement on the fraudulent claims.
    Sylvestri admitted that he and his co-conspirators used bank accounts for the clinics and shell companies, including his shell company, BONB LLC, aka BioScan, to conceal and disburse the fraud proceeds.
    Four other defendants were indicted in this case on health care fraud and money laundering charges. In addition to Sylvestri, one of the other defendants has pleaded guilty. The remaining three defendants are scheduled for a jury trial in April 2015. An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
   This case is being investigated by HHS-OIG and the FBI and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida. This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Christopher J. Hunter of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
    Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged nearly 2,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $6 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
   Source: Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force

Photo by Steve Rensberry (c) 2014