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March 11, 2019

New indictment exposes underbelly of federal RDAP program ... and provides still more reason to be thankful for passage of FIRST STEP Act

This interesting new AP piece, headlined "Show up drunk: Indictments spotlight prison rehab scams," reports on indictments surrounding efforts to defraud the only long-standing federal prison program thathas  allowed prisoners to earn reductions in their rehabilitative efforts.  Here are the details:

It's a tip that has been passed onto convicts for years: On your way to federal prison, say you have a substance abuse problem, and you could qualify for a treatment program that knocks up to a year off your sentence.

Federal prosecutors have long suspected abuses in the program, which has enrolled a deep list of high-profile convicts.  Recently, a grand jury in Connecticut indicted three people accused of coaching ineligible convicts on how to get into the Residential Drug Abuse Program, or RDAP, by telling them to show up to prison intoxicated and fake withdrawal symptoms. The charges are among the first filed against prison consultants involving the program.

The case has put a spotlight on the unregulated world of prison consulting, in which some ex-convicts and former prison employees charge thousands of dollars for their inside knowledge to help people prepare for life behind bars. Some consultants say there has been wrongdoing in the industry for decades, including encouraging clients to scam their way into the rehab program.

The small industry now is "totally the Wild West," said Jack Donson, president of New York-based My Federal Prison Consultant and a retired federal Bureau of Prisons employee. "I hope it brings light to things," he said, referring to the Connecticut case.  "I hope it gives people ... pause to not cross that line to illegality and unethical conduct."

Completing the nine-month, 500-hour treatment program for nonviolent offenders is one of only a few ways inmates can get their sentences reduced. About 15,600 inmates — nearly 10 percent of the current federal prison population — participated in the program last year, and thousands more are on waiting lists. To get in, convicts must present evidence they had substance abuse or addiction problems during the year prior to their arrest. Upon completion, their sentences can be reduced and they can spend the last six months of their sentences in a halfway house.

Christopher Mattei, a former federal prosecutor in Connecticut, said the U.S. attorney's office increasingly saw white-collar convicts make use of the program. "It undermines the public's confidence that all people when they go before a court for sentencing will be treated fairly.  People who know how to game the system know how to get the benefits, whereas people who are struggling with addiction don't know all the angles to play," said Mattei, former chief of the financial fraud and public corruption unit in the Connecticut U.S. attorney's office....

The criminal indictments in Connecticut are believed to be among the first criminal charges filed against prison consultants in connection with the treatment program. Arrested were Michigan residents Tony Pham, 49, and Samuel Copenhaver, 47, both of Grand Rapids; and Constance Moerland, 33, of Hudsonville.  The three were managing partners in RDAP Law Consultants, authorities said.

Prosecutors said the three told clients over the past six years to falsely inform Bureau of Prisons officials that they had drug and alcohol problems, taught them how to fake withdrawal symptoms and how to fraudulently obtain medication to treat withdrawal symptoms, so they could show prescriptions to qualify for the program. The partners also told their clients to begin drinking alcohol daily before going to prison and to show up drunk, the indictments said....

Last year in New York City, a lawyer and three other people were charged with defrauding the government and making false statements. They allegedly submitted bogus information to prison officials, claiming that a convicted drug dealer had a history of addiction, in an effort to get the client into the drug treatment program so he could be released early. The case remains pending.

Other consultants coach people on how to lie to get into the program, according to Donson, who said some also claim they can get convicts sent to prisons that have the RDAP program when only federal prison officials have that authority. He said he sees potential for fraud also as consultants rush to offer help related to a new law that allows federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before late 2010 the opportunity to petition for a lighter penalty.

Donson and other consultants say more monitoring of the industry and prosecutions would help deter misconduct. "It's an unregulated industry, so something like this hopefully brings some attention to it," said Dan Wise, an ex-con who completed the RDAP program and now runs a prison consultant business based in Spokane, Washington.

I think it important for the feds to appropriately police the RDAP program to ensure defendants who are truly struggling with addiction are able to access a program with finite resources. But this article fails to highlight that defendants' efforts to sneak into the RDAP program was a symptom of a broader disease, namely that federal prisoners have historically had precious few means to seek to earn reductions in their sentences. Thankfully, the FIRST STEP Act is a significant step toward treating this disease, as it provides an elaborate set of mechanisms for allow some prisoners to earn reductions through other rehabilitative efforts. But, critically, the FIRST STEP Act has a number of problematic exclusions and restrictions on which prisoners can earn reductions AND there is reason to worry that poor implementation of the FIRST STEP could lead to privileged prisoners again being better able to access programming and reduction that should be made properly available to as many prisoners as possible.

Without know more about the indictments and underlying facts referenced in this AP article, I am disinclined to comment directly on whether federal prosecution of prison consultants may be the most efficient and effective way to police the administration of prison programming. But I am eager to encourage everyone involved in counseling defendant and prisoners to be honest and straight-forward in their dealing or else prisoners and their families are likely to be the ultimate victims.

March 11, 2019 at 10:40 PM | Permalink


I am currently working to develop an online resource that will increase awareness of the medical condition Adult Children Of Alcoholics (ACOA). Many ACOAs themselves perpetuate the cycle of addiction that was prevalent in their parents and the family home. Incarceration, homelessness, early death, and other serious issues are common among ACOAs. Of my co-alcoholic parent's 3 sons, 2 of us became federally convicted felons. The 3rd brother was committing drug-related felony crimes but was never caught. My two brothers suffered from addiction and both died too early in life. It is my hope that the resource I am building might help other ACOAs to avoid the serious Losses Of A Lifetime that so many ACOAs experience. Increasing awareness about ACOA is one of the goals of our resource.

I was incarcerated at FPC Eglin and was transferred to FPC Talladega to take the RDAP in the early 2000's. So much valuable and relevant information on a large number of key life skills is taught in the RDAP program that the RDAP transcends drug and alcohol related issues. The RDAP addresses dysfunctional and criminal thought patterns. By definition, every inmate is both dysfunctional and criminal. This means that the RDAP can benefit every single inmate in the federal BOP. In my experienced opinion as an inmate, a graduate of the RDAP program, a dysfunctional ACOA, and as a builder of a resource for other ACOAs; the educational materials and concepts communicated in the RDAP should be mandatory for every single inmate in the BOP. With complete candor, I also state that every single staff member in the BOP starting with the warden at each facility must also be required to graduate from the RDAP. Once understood properly, it becomes clear that the RDAP is one of the very few valuable and worthwhile rehabilitation programs that is offered in the BOP and that actually achieves measurable, successful results in reducing recidivism.

Candidly, the RDAP should be taught starting in grade schools across America. Unless you have taken this program, then you cannot grasp the full significance and impact that the teaching of these life-skill concepts can have upon the lives of inmates who oftentimes come from broken, addicted, or alcoholic homes. I know of nowhere else that ACOAs and others can receive this essential information that is taught in the RDAP. If you are in prison, then by definition you are dysfunctional for one reason or another. The RDAP helps to address dysfunctional thinking by teaching functional communication, cognitive behavioral therapy, self-talk, cognitive-emotive dissonance, thinking errors, criminal thought patterns, and the 8 positive attitudes that when applied in life can often counter-act dysfunctional thinking.

Bottom line: everyone, and I mean Everyone including BOP staff who are badly affected with dysfunctional thinking errors, can benefit from taking the RDAP. The RDAP department was like an oasis of enlightenment surrounded by a sea of sick ignorance in the BOP system. The RDAP actually cared about helping people to become rehabilitated so that we as inmates could return to our families and communities and make a positive difference. The sick schmucks in the BOP only cared about crushing and harming the inmates and their families. The fact that the RDAP graduates have a much lower rate of recidivism versus the BOPs neanderthal-level of thinking is evidence of which methods of inmate rehab are serving society best. Most inmates in the RDAP program classes that I encountered, which would have been about 4 classes of 27 inmates, all were grateful for their experience in the RDAP. The RDAP was stressful in the dorms (to say the least) and the material in the classroom required daily attention and work. The RDAP was challenging at an appropriate level and the information was both liberating and empowering.

Forget these ignorant, arrogant prosecutors and their damaging, sick counterparts in the BOP. These people have established a culture of confrontation and sadistic punishment upon American citizens in the BOP who may have only had relatively minor, non-violent offenses. There are many people from all walks of life who are in the BOP for non-violent, minor, even questionable federal charges. Many are in the BOP as a result of drug and alcohol addiction. These people have a medical condition that the RDAP seeks to treat, which is enlightened and correct. Yet, the ignorance of the BOP seeks to damage and crush inmates. At Eglin I had a medical issue that was legitimate and was not being addressed. My pain level actually had tears in my eyes at various times during the day at this work camp. For those of us who have experienced the non-existent medical care at a BOP facility, we know that the last resort is to approach the warden and/or assistant warden. You just don't want to have anything to do with those 2 BOP jackasses if you can avoid it. But my medical condition was severe and I needed help so I respectfully approached the warden and assistant warden in the dining hall one meal as they both happened to be available by rare chance. I attempted to communicate my medical condition and pain level to these two low-life morons who were on the taxpayer's dime. They quickly dismissed me and I returned to my table and chair a short distance from them while they both spoke loudly making jokes and laughing about what I had communicated. They were aware that I was seated close by and could hear all of their words, jokes, and laughing. The thing that impressed me the most was that these two were genuinely amused and glad that another human being was in pain and they had no intention of helping anyone but they were glad to make jokes about someone else's pain that had no other recourse for help. Let's be clear, most BOP employees are human garbage. There are rare instances of decent people who care and try to help others when possible in the BOP. But too many sadistic, sick, control freaks rise up into positions of power in the BOP. These people are truly human scum.

The RDAP department is the exact opposite of the BOP people. The RDAP instructors are enlightened, educated, and hard-working. RDAP instructors / counselors are able to help people because they have acquired knowledge and understand how to help people. RDAP staff genuinely care about helping people and the RDAP staff is a blessing who touch the lives of inmates who return to be positive members in their families and communities. These people in the RDAP are amazing and they have my eternal gratitude and respect. Everyone should be given the opportunity to learn from the RDAP programs regardless of whether they have an addiction issue or not. The issue of earning time off for completing the RDAP should not be conflated with receiving the benefits for taking the RDAP. However, we all know that for most inmates, myself included, the driving force to be admitted to the RDAP was the 12-month sentence reduction. This 12-months out of prison early is what gets and keeps the attention of inmates to learn the concepts taught over a 10-month program.

Reduced recidivism speaks volumes about the value of the RDAP. For this reason alone the RDAP should be made available to all inmates. A major expansion of the RDAP to include all inmates (and BOP staff) would serve our American society well. How we treat the weakest and least fortunate in our society is a measure of who we are as a people in our nation. The BOP mentality reflects extremely poorly upon American society and the USG. The RDAP mentality exhibits enlightenment, caring, an honest effort at rehabilitation, and the way forward for the future.

Posted by: Terry | Sep 4, 2019 4:15:55 AM

I am a recent Rdap graduate myself from FPC Alderson. I have been to jail and prison many times and twice as many rehabs. Rdap and tdap are the only thing that ever helped. My life has completely changed.

Posted by: Susan Carpenter Masse | Dec 26, 2019 7:10:55 AM

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