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August 7, 2021

A couple of accounts of the persistent and problematic challenges of reentry

In recent days, I have seen a couple of notable new accounts of the trip wires that we have created for persons seeking to reenter the community after prison.  Here are links to the stories and excerpts:

From Daily Beast, "Pot Prisoner Sentenced to Life Before Trump Pardon Is Back in Custody":

In 2010, a federal judge sentenced Tony DeJohn to life plus 10 years on a nonviolent marijuana charge. Because it was DeJohn’s third conviction, the judge was required by law to impose the maximum penalty available. He was just 31 years old.

Eleven years later, DeJohn, who is from Upstate New York but had been locked up in high-security facilities in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Colorado, was granted clemency by then-President Donald Trump. He was released from prison on January 20, 2021.

But today, DeJohn is back in federal custody. The now 47-year-old will be spending the next six months in a Pennsylvania halfway house, according to court filings reviewed by The Daily Beast—but not because he broke any new laws.

From the REFORM Alliance, via TWitter:

Daniel B., a father of four from Nebraska, wants to be able to go to his daughter’s softball games, advance in his career, and provide for his family.  But the strict rules of Federal Supervised Release make it difficult for him to succeed as a parent.

Since being released from prison, Daniel obtained a job, married, & became a minister.  He is also serving 10 years of Supervised Release, where the threat of technical violations — like missing curfew, traveling w/o permission, or losing his job—could send him back to prison.

Daniel isn’t alone.  We have far too many people on Federal Supervision, serving terms that are too long. The system is wasteful and even counterproductive to public safety.  Too often, Federal Supervision acts like a trap door to prison instead of a springboard to success.

UPDATE: One more on this topic from this NC Policy Watch blog post titled "Leaving prison? NC’s mind-boggling bureaucracy stands between you, a state-issued ID, and quite possibly your future." Here is an excerpt:

One of the most pervasive challenges for people returning home from incarceration is also one of the least discussed: state-issued ID cards....

Over 22,000 North Carolinians are released from incarceration each year. Thousands of them find themselves unable to acquire a state-issued ID. The process is so convoluted for the re-entry population that it is nearly impossible for many returning residents. Even if these folks returning home do everything right, the path to freedom, to independence, has been so narrowly circumscribed by state bureaucracy that whether someone succeeds or fails is as much a matter of luck as it is of diligence and perseverance.

Yet, officials with the power to streamline this process, to make it at least fair, continue to drag their feet on this issue. For years, advocates and reentry providers have asked the Department of Public Safety and NC Division of Motor Vehicles to collaborate on addressing this issue. Unfortunately, little has come from the process except unsuccessful efforts and more excuses.

August 7, 2021 at 10:35 PM | Permalink


One of the frequently overlooked resolutions of Federal Supervised Release status is to move to terminate it early, after serving as little as one year. Federal statutes specifically provide for early termination. Many supervisees are unaware that early termination is even possible. Most U.S. District Judges will follow the recommendation of the Parole Officer, so if the supervisee behaves well, does what he is supposed to do, and establishes a good rapport with his Probation Officer, he can probably obtain early termination, unless he is extremely violent or he had child porn charges. Early termination is usually simple for those who served white collar sentences.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Aug 8, 2021 5:02:09 PM

Unfortunately, the Third Circuit held in United States v. Damon, 933 F.3d 269 (3d Cir. 2019) that the standard appellate waiver the government includes in all plea agreements prohibits the defendant from seeking to terminate supervision early. A godawful decision.

Posted by: Jacob Schuman | Aug 9, 2021 2:13:32 PM

Jacob, I concur with your assessment of the Damon decision in the Third Circuit. Thankfully, we don't have to deal with that problem in the Sixth Circuit where I live (Lexington, Kentucky). I wonder how many other (if any) Circuits have ruled on that issue? Sounds to me like something that might eventually work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Until then, we are frequently getting supervised releases terminated early all the time. All the defendants have to do is make it thru one full year of supervision without problems.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Aug 9, 2021 7:17:15 PM

Thanks Jim. I believe the Philly Probation Office supported the defendant in Damon because they understood that there's no benefit to continuing to supervise people who don't need supervision. It looks like the only other circuit opinion to have cited Damon is an unpublished Fourth Circuit case on a different issue, so for now the damage is contained.

Posted by: Jacob Schuman | Aug 11, 2021 11:21:37 AM

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