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June 30, 2015

Might Pope Francis shame Prez Obama into doing more about mass incarceration?

The question in the title of this post is a bit of a riff off of this notable new commentary from Philadelphia magazine, headlined "Will the Pope Shame City Hall Into Fixing Its Atrocious Prison Problem?".  Here are excerpts:

The Cool Pope is visiting Philadelphia’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility during his trip to the city this fall, the Vatican announced Tuesday.  

When Pope Francis tours the jail, he’ll find a prison system that has been sued over its crammed conditions almost non-stop for the past 45 years.  In fact, a judge ordered the city to build CFCF in the nineties in order to alleviate overcrowding.  Today, the city's prison system houses nearly 8,200 inmates — about 1,700 more than it was built to hold. At CFCF, 400 to 500 prisoners live in "triple cells," which are jam-packed, three-man cells that are intended to hold only one or two people.  

Will city officials allow the Pope to see the prison's lackluster conditions?  Will he pop into a triple cell?  Or will his impending visit pressure the city to finally get its stuffed jails under control?

We asked Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter, if there are plans to change the setup of CFCF or move inmates to other jails in the city's system during the Pope's visit.  "There are no plans to change the 'setup' at the prison.  The Pope will see the facility as it is.  He will visit with a group of inmates and also speak to a group of staffers," he said, adding, "No, inmates will not be moved from CFCF."

There's a good chance that this might light a fire under the city to cut down on the prison population, though.  Throughout Nutter's tenure, the city has taken several steps to reduce the number of inmates in the city's jails — and, at times, has been very successful.  In early 2011, the prison system's population fell to 7,700, a recent low. Still, it has never reached that magic number — 6,500, which is the maximum number of inmates that the system was constructed to hold — under Nutter.

The prison population has often fallen under Nutter shortly after the city has been sued due to overcrowding.  Likewise, it has risen after such lawsuits were put on hold.... Won't the upcoming visit by Pope Francis — and all of the international media attention that will come with it — give the city an even bigger incentive to cut down on overcrowding?...

It's also noteworthy that Pope Francis is touring CFCF, which opened in 1995 and is one of the city's newest prison facilities, as opposed to, say, the House of Correction, which is nearly 150 years old and lacks air conditioning.

My post title and question is actually prompted by the fact that I could not remember the last time Prez Obama (or, for that matter, any sitting or former Prez) ever visited a US prison.  Notably, as this article reports, Prez Obama did visit in 2013 the South African prison cell which long housed Nelson Mandela. 

As a general matter, I wonder if any Presidential historians can help me figure out if or how many sitting or former Presidents have ever made an official visit to a US prison or jail facility.  In the meantime, I will here call it notable and telling, and ultimately shameful, that modern mass incarceration in the United States apparently is more of a Papal than a Presidential concern.

June 30, 2015 at 04:29 PM | Permalink


Is there any shame that we allow 20 million FBI Index felonies a year, and a 5 fold concentration of victimization in black areas?

These are common law crimes. They do not include drug dealing, nor any regulatory crimes.

Non-negligent Manslaughter
Forcible Rape
Aggravated Assault
Motor Vehicle Theft

These likely knock at least a point off our economic growth. They drop real estate values 40%. They deter people from learning or working hard. They generate 10% or more of health costs. They ruin the futures of victims. There is massive PTSD, and physical injury from these.

Now the lawyer, with unemployment from government make work jobs, wants to loose the criminals to get back to full employment.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 30, 2015 6:47:00 PM

The Pope is just another Argentinian Commie running his con. He wants to bring Argentina's crime rate to our nation. Those who follow his counsel will deserve the resulting victimization rates.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 30, 2015 11:55:00 PM

Few realize it, but the largest single concentration of Federal prison inmates today is in the 7-prison complex (including two max. security penitentiaries) located in Coleman, Florida, about 13 miles off I-75. If President Obama is serious about reforming the Federal criminal justice system, then he should visit the prisons at Coleman, Florida. Any such visit, however, would be a nightmare for his Secret Service protective detail! The two maximum security penitentiaries at Coleman were built to replace USP - Atlanta and USP - Leavenworth, which were both more than 100 years old and could not be upgraded to modern standards for penitentiaries. Those two old prisons are now medium security FCIs, and their former inmates were transferred to Coleman's USPs about 2006 (I was an inmate at USP -1, Coleman when the transition occurred). Max male inmates from the former control Unit at USP - Marion, Illinois were also transferred to Coleman's USPs. At USPs, 2/3 of the inmates have life sentences and 85% have 30 years to life. I was sent to USP Coleman with a "management variable for greater security" (despite having Camp-level security points), with 2 1/2 years left to serve on white collar convictions. It was an eye-opening experience. I saw (but was never the victim of) some serious violence and worked in the law library there on some interesting Federal criminal cases. I was the only person there with a real law degree. A Deputy Warden of the Complex happened upon me 6 weeks before I was to have left for the halfway house. He said that in 23 years with the BOP, he had never seen an inmate with Camp-level security points and no disciplinary incident reports for more than 2 years being held at a Penitentiary. He had me transferred to the Low Security Prison within 3 days.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jul 1, 2015 10:28:50 AM

Jim. Did you commit a crime crime, where people were harmed? Or was it a made up lawyer gotcha?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 1, 2015 11:42:15 AM

Jim. Did you commit a crime crime, where people were harmed? Or was it a made up lawyer gotcha?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 1, 2015 11:42:16 AM

I was convicted of conspiracies and aiding and abetting crimes that were committed by law practice clients of mine, who lied to me and deceived me. I got nothing out of the "crimes" for which I was convicted except normal hourly attorney's fees and expense reimbursements, which amounted to 1/31 of my law practice revenues over a 2 1/2 year period of time. I had no other financial interest in the crimes my clients committed.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jul 1, 2015 7:35:49 PM

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