Let’s Put Prison Sentences on Probation

Judges share the blame for America’s burgeoning incarcerated population.

— by

john-kiriakouYou may have heard there’s a growing political movement against mass incarceration. Someone should clue in the judges.

In the past 30 years, federal judges have turned to imprisonment — as opposed to probation — as the punishment of choice for even minor crimes, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. During that same period, federal cases have tripled in number.

The Pew study reports that “nine in 10 federal offenders received prison sentences in 2014, up from less than half in 1980, as the use of probation steadily declined.” Despite the ballooning number of cases in that time, 2014 saw 2,300 fewer probation sentences than 1980.

Part of the fault lies with the draconian mandatory minimum sentences that Congress passed in the 1980s and 1990s as it ratcheted up the so-called war on drugs. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told a group at Harvard Law School in mid-January that these laws have had a “devastating effect on poor communities, and were a drastic and ineffective response to the drug scourge of the 1980s.”

Guantanamo-prisoner-detainee-hands-tied-torture-gitmo
Val Kerry / Flickr

That may be true, but it’s not the whole story.

Drug cases account for about 47 percent of all federal crimes, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or BOP. What about the other 53 percent? Should all of those people really be in prison? I think not.

First, there are many kinds of federal prisons.

The worst and most violent prisoners — murderers and terrorists, for example — are in maximum-security penitentiaries, which hold about 12 percent of the BOP’s prisoners. While we can certainly have a discussion about the use of solitary confinement in these facilities — critics like the United Nations call it torture — few would dispute that these dangerous offenders should be held securely.

Medium-security prisons, which still have high walls and guard towers, hold another 30 percent of federal prisoners. These are generally the bank robbers, serious drug offenders, people in on gun charges, and the like. If these prisoners are well behaved, and if they have fewer than 20 years to go on a sentence, they’re eligible to move to a low-security prison.

Low-security prisons hold another 38 percent of federal prisoners. Most people with mandatory minimum drug sentences are here, as are nearly all of the BOP’s pedophiles. Most prisoners at this level are on their best behavior because they hope to be transferred to a minimum-security work camp (though child abusers and violent offenders are ineligible).

But here’s a question: If a crime is so minor that a person can be sentenced to a work camp, which is outside the prison walls, then why are these people in prison at all?

Blaming mandatory minimums goes only so far. Not all crimes have them. In fact, most don’t.

So why would a judge willingly take a parent away from his family, or out of the workforce? Why disrupt a community when probation is a legitimate punishment that the judge has the authority to levy?

While on probation, the offender could continue to work and support his family, pay taxes and restitution, and still make amends with society. It makes more sense. It’s worked in the past.

If judges are serious about reducing prison populations, they’ll sentence more offenders to probation.


OtherWords columnist John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the winner of the 2015 PEN Center USA First Amendment award. OtherWords.org.

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Government Teams Recovered $4.3B in FY2013 and $19.2B over the Last 5 Years

Attorney General Eric Holder and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today released the annual Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control (HCFAC) Program report showing that for every dollar spent on health care-related fraud and abuse investigations through this and other programs in the last three years, the government recovered $8.10.  This is the highest three-year average return on investment in the 17-year history of the HCFAC Program.

810The government’s health care fraud prevention and enforcement efforts recovered a record-breaking $4.3 billion in taxpayer dollars in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, up from $4.2 billion in FY 2012, from individuals and companies who attempted to defraud federal health programs serving seniors or who sought payments from taxpayers to which they were not entitled.  Over the last five years, the administration’s enforcement efforts have recovered $19.2 billion, up from $9.4 billion over the prior five-year period.  Since the inception of the program in1997, the HCFAC Program has returned more than $25.9 billion to the Medicare Trust Funds and treasury.

These recoveries, released today in the annual HCFAC Program report, demonstrate President Obama’s commitment to making the elimination of fraud, waste and abuse, particularly in health care, a top priority for the administration.  This is the fifth consecutive year that the program has increased recoveries over the past year, climbing from $2 billion in FY 2008 to over $4 billion every year since FY 2011.

The success of this joint Department of Justice and HHS effort was made possible in part by the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), created in 2009 to prevent fraud, waste and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid and to crack down on individuals and entities that are abusing the system and costing American taxpayers billions of dollars.

“With these extraordinary recoveries, and the record-high rate of return on investment we’ve achieved on our comprehensive health care fraud enforcement efforts, we’re sending a strong message to those who would take advantage of their fellow citizens, target vulnerable populations, and commit fraud on federal health care programs,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.  “Thanks to initiatives like HEAT, our work to combat fraud has never been more cooperative or more effective.  And our unprecedented commitment to holding criminals accountable, and securing remarkable results for American taxpayers, is paying dividends.”

“These impressive recoveries for the American taxpayer are just one aspect of the comprehensive anti-fraud strategy we have implemented since the passage of the Affordable Care Act,” said HHS Secretary Sebelius.  “We’ve cracked down on tens of thousands health care providers suspected of Medicare fraud. New enrollment screening techniques are proving effective in preventing high risk providers from getting into the system, and the new computer analytics system that detects and stops fraudulent billing before money ever goes out the door is accomplishing positive results – all of which are adding to savings for the Medicare Trust Fund.”

The new authorities under the Affordable Care Act granted to HHS and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) were instrumental in clamping down on fraudulent activity in health care.  In FY 2013, CMS announced the first use of its temporary moratoria authority granted by the Affordable Care Act.  The action stopped enrollment of new home health or ambulance enrollments in three fraud hot spots around the country, allowing CMS and its law enforcement partners to remove bad actors from the program while blocking provider entry or re-entry into these already over-supplied markets.

The Justice Department and HHS have improved their coordination through HEAT and are currently operating Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams in nine areas across the country. The strike force teams use advanced data analysis techniques to identify high-billing levels in health care fraud hot spots so that interagency teams can target emerging or migrating schemes as well as chronic fraud by criminals masquerading as health care providers or suppliers. The Justice Department’s enforcement of the civil False Claims Act and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act has produced similar record-breaking results.  These combined efforts coordinated under HEAT have expanded local partnerships and helped educate Medicare beneficiaries about how to protect themselves against fraud.

In Fiscal Year 2013, the strike force secured records in the number of cases filed (137), individuals charged (345), guilty pleas secured (234) and jury trial convictions (46). Beyond these remarkable results, the defendants who were charged and sentenced are facing significant time in prison – an average of 52 months in prison for those sentenced in FY 2013, and an average of 47 months in prison for those sentenced since 2007.

In FY 2013, the Justice Department opened 1,013 new criminal health care fraud investigations involving 1,910 potential defendants, and a total of 718 defendants were convicted of health care fraud-related crimes during the year.  The department also opened 1,083 new civil health care fraud investigations.

The strike force coordinated a takedown in May 2013 that resulted in charges by eight strike force cities against 89 individuals, including doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in Medicare fraud schemes involving approximately $223 million in false billings. As a part of the May 2013 takedown, HHS also suspended or took other administrative action against 18 providers using authority under the health care law to suspend payments until an investigation is complete.

In FY 2013, the strike force secured records in the number of cases filed (137), individuals charged (345), guilty pleas secured (234) and jury trial convictions (48). Beyond these remarkable results, the defendants who were charged and sentenced are facing significant time in prison – an average of 52 months in prison for those sentenced in FY 2013, and an average of 47 months in prison for those sentenced since 2007.

In March 2011, CMS began an ambitious project to revalidate all 1.5 million Medicare enrolled providers and suppliers under the Affordable Care Act screening requirements. As of September 2013, more than 535,000 providers were subject to the new screening requirements and over 225,000 lost the ability to bill Medicare due to the Affordable Care Act requirements and other proactive initiatives.  Since the Affordable Care Act, CMS has also revoked 14,663 providers and suppliers’ ability to bill the Medicare program. These providers were removed from the program because they had felony convictions, were not operational at the address CMS had on file, or were not in compliance with CMS rules.

HHS and the Justice Department are leading historic efforts with the private sector to bring innovation to the fight against health care fraud. In addition to real-time data and information exchanges with the private sector, CMS’ Program Integrity Command Center worked with the HHS Office of the Inspector General and the FBI to conduct 93 missions to detect, investigate, and reduce improper payments in FY 2013.

From May 2013 through August 2013, CMS led an outreach and education campaign targeted to specific communities where Medicare fraud is more prevalent.  This multimedia campaign included national television, radio, and print outreach and resulted in an increased awareness of how to detect and report Medicare fraud.

To read today’s report visit http://oig.hhs.gov/publications/docs/hcfac/FY2013-hcfac.pdf

For previous years’ reports visit https://oig.hhs.gov/reports-and-publications/hcfac/index.asp

For more information on the joint DOJ-HHS Strike Force activities, visit: www.StopMedicareFraud.gov/.

Pay Attention Folks — It Was the GOP that Demanded AP be Investigated!

— by Vickie Rock, NV Rural Democratic Caucus, 2013-05-14

Have you been paying attention?  The GOP doesn’t think so and they’re trying to pull the wool over everybody’s eyes with this “AP phone records” announcement, as though their fingerprints weren’t anywhere near this “fiasco.”  Let me refresh your memory by referring back to a few items of note, that happened just about one year ago, when GOP legislators were up in arms about security information published in the media — by the AP — that was way too accurate for their comfort.  In fact, were claiming treasonous breaches in security had been committed and that the security leaks led all the way to the White House.  Thus, they were demanding that a special prosecutor be appointed and that maybe, just maybe, impeachment of Obama was in order for this egregious act :

“This administration cannot be trusted to investigate itself,” Sen John Cornyn (R-TX), said during a Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday. “You cannot investigate yourself and not have a conflict of interest.” Sen John McCain (R-AZ) declared:  “I continue to call on the president to immediately appoint a special counsel to fully investigate, and where necessary, prosecute these gravely serious breaches of our national security.”

Here’s a couple of articles to refresh your memories:

Thirty-one GOP senators call for special counsel to investigate security leaks
— by Alexander Bolton, The Hill  – 06/26/12 11:09 AM ET

“The numerous national-security leaks reportedly originating out of the executive branch in recent months have been stunning,” they wrote to Holder.

“If true, they reveal details of some of our nation’s most highly classified and sensitive military and intelligence matters, thereby risking our national security, as well as the lives of American citizens and our allies. If there were ever a case requiring an outside special counsel with bipartisan acceptance and widespread public trust, this is it,” they wrote.

GOP lawmakers even went so far as to name just ‘who’ might be responsible — National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon.  Among those signing the letter circulated by Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) were Senators:  John McCain (AZ), Mitch McConnell (KY), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Kelley Ayotte (NH), Roy Blunt (MO), John Barrasso (WY), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Susan Collins (Maine), Jim DeMint (SC), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and John Thune (SD).

GOP senators press Holder for special prosecutor into potential national security leaks
Published June 26, 2012, FoxNews.com

Fox’s take on just exactly ‘who’ might be at fault was a bit higher on the food chain, claiming that GOP senators were urging “AG Eric Holder to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether the White House is responsible for national security leaks.”

Oh, and let’s not forget — the GOP’s letter to AG Eric Holder was sent right around the same time that the GOP-led House was “expected to vote on whether to hold him in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoena requests to provide more documents regarding the Justice Department’s failed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.”

Holder launches probe into possible national security leaks
— b
y David Jackson, USA TODAY, 2012-06-09 6:15 AM

AG Eric Holder Friday appointed two U.S. attorneys [Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland] to lead a pair of criminal investigations into possible national security leaks of classified information.  For Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), that wasn’t quite good enough, he wanted a special counsel who could pursue impeachment, if they could snag enough evidence.

So now, advance forward to today, when some of the fruits of their demand for an investigation have reached fruition — and once again — they’re playing yet another game of “pin the blame on the donkey.”

Under sweeping subpoenas, Justice Department obtained AP phone records in leak investigation
— by
Sari Horwitz, Published: May 13. 2013

The Justice Department secretly obtained two months’ worth of telephone records of journalists working for the Associated Press as part of a year-long investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a failed al-Qaeda plot last year.  The aggressive investigation into the possible disclosure of classified information to the AP is part of a pattern in which the Obama administration has pursued current and former government officials suspected of releasing secret material. Six officials have been prosecuted, more than under all previous administrations combined.

You’d think the GOP would be jumping for joy.  NOPE!  They’re pissed that the Administration, particularly, that other black guy, you know, Eric Holder, actually managed to get the job done.

“We take seriously our obligations to follow all applicable laws, federal regulations, and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations,” said a statement from Bill Miller, spokesman for the office. “Those regulations require us to make every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means before even considering a subpoena for the phone records of a member of the media.”

The story at issue included details of a CIA operation in Yemen that foiled an al-Qaeda plot in the spring of 2012 to set off a bomb on an airplane headed to the United States. The April and May 2012 phone records of the reporters and editor of the story were among the material seized by the Justice Department.

But, those phone records aren’t all that were pursued in the leak investigation.  Numerous senior government officials have been interviewed in connection with the investigation into the AP story. Among those questioned was John O. Brennan, who served as Obama’s counterterrorism adviser before becoming CIA director this year.

The GOP is hoping you won’t remember their fingerprints are all over this one.  So now they’re going to jump up and down, screaming that journalists 1st Amendment rights have been rudely violated as a smokescreen to cover up what they themselves demanded.  And then, they’ll look to see what other impediments they can enact and throw out there to prevent him and any other attorney general from being able to get their jobs done so they can appease their base.

Darrell Issa (R-CA),chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was particularly displeased, saying:  “Coming within a week of revelations that the White House lied to the American people about the Benghazi attacks and the IRS targeted conservative Americans for their political beliefs, Americans should take notice that top Obama administration officials increasingly see themselves as above the law and emboldened by the belief that they don’t have to answer to anyone,”

Pardon me, but, the Administration (meaning President Obama) didn’t lie about Benghazi and in particular, in the Rose Garden, on nationwide TV actually characterized the events occurring in Benghazi as “acts of terror.”  But apparently the the GOP Dictionary, “acts of terror” and “TERRORISM” are two totally unrelated terms describing events.  In addition, the IRS was merely doing it’s job.  501c3 and 501c4 social service agencies are tax-exempt agencies that do NOT have to disclose their donors.  Given the proliferation of the number of applications the IRS was receiving with either “TEA PARTY” or “PATRIOTS” in their official organizational NAME, and given that the TEA PARTY is a official sub-division of the REPUBLICAN PARTY, the IRS had and has and obligation to assess whether those organizations should be exempted from our nation’s tax laws because of the nature of the social services they provide to our society.  Frankly, in my personal opinion, I believe they erred in a large number of cases, as I’ve seen NO social services being offered, but one helluva lot of partisan-biased political advertising pass across my television screen.

The AP story is related to  just one of the investigations demanded by the GOP  The second “leak investigation” ordered by AG Eric Holder, at their request, involves a New York Times report about the Stuxnet computer worm, which was developed jointly by the United States and Israel to damage nuclear centrifuges at Iran’s main uranium-enrichment plant.

So standby … it ain’t over yet. I can hardly wait to hear what the GOP has to say should one of their precious donors or propagandists are found to have “leaked” sensitive security information and are prosecuted for, of all things, treason!

PPACA: Enforcement Efforts Recover ~$4.1B

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 14, 2012
Contact: http://www.justice.gov | (202) 514-2007
HHS Press Office | (202) 690-6343

Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Efforts Result
in Record-Breaking Recoveries Totaling Nearly $4.1 Billion

Largest Sum Ever Recovered in Single Year

WASHINGTON –Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today released a new report showing that the government’s health care fraud prevention and enforcement efforts recovered nearly $4.1 billion in taxpayer dollars in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011.  This is the highest annual amount ever recovered from individuals and companies who attempted to defraud seniors and taxpayers or who sought payments to which they were not entitled.

These findings, released today, in the annual Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program (HCFAC) report, are a result of President Obama making the elimination of fraud, waste and abuse a top priority in his administration.  The success of this joint Department of Justice and HHS effort would not have been possible without the Health Care Fraud Prevention & Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), created in 2009 to prevent fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and to crack down on the fraud perpetrators who are abusing the system and costing American taxpayers billions of dollars.  These efforts to reduce fraud will continue to improve with the new tools and resources provided by the Affordable Care Act.

“This report reflects unprecedented successes by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services in aggressively preventing and combating health care fraud, safeguarding precious taxpayer dollars and ensuring the strength of our essential health care programs,” said Attorney General Holder.  “We can all be proud of what’s been achieved in the last fiscal year by the Department’s prosecutors, analysts and investigators – and by our partners at HHS.  These efforts reflect a strong, ongoing commitment to fiscal accountability and to helping the American people at a time when budgets are tight.”

“Fighting fraud is one of our top priorities and we have recovered an unprecedented number of taxpayer dollars,” said Secretary Sebelius.  “Our efforts strengthen the integrity of our health care programs, and meet the President’s call for a return to American values that ensure everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.”

Approximately $4.1 billion stolen or otherwise improperly obtained from federal health care programs was recovered and returned to the Medicare Trust Funds, the Treasury and others in FY 2011.  This is an unprecedented achievement for HCFAC, a joint effort of the two departments to coordinate federal, state and local law enforcement activities to fight health care fraud and abuse.

The recently-enacted Affordable Care Act provides additional tools and resources to help fight fraud that will help boost these efforts, including an additional $350 million for HCFAC activities.  The administration is already using tools authorized by the Affordable Care Act, including enhanced screenings and enrollment requirements, increased data sharing across government, expanded overpayment recovery efforts and greater oversight of private insurance abuses.

Since 2009, the Departments of Justice and HHS have enhanced their coordination through HEAT and have increased the number of Medicare Fraud Strike Force teams.  During FY 2011, HEAT and the Medicare Fraud Strike Force expanded local partnerships and helped educate Medicare beneficiaries about how to protect themselves against fraud.  The departments hosted a series of regional fraud prevention summits around the country, provided free compliance training for providers and other stakeholders and sent letters to state attorneys general urging them to work with HHS and federal, state and local law enforcement officials to mount a substantial outreach campaign to educate seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries about how to prevent scams and fraud.

In FY 2011, the total number of cities with strike force prosecution teams was increased to nine, all of which have teams of investigators and prosecutors from the Justice Department, the FBI, and the HHS Office of Inspector General, dedicated to fighting fraud.  The strike force teams use advanced data analysis techniques to identify high-billing levels in health care fraud hot spots so that interagency teams can target emerging or migrating schemes along with chronic fraud by criminals masquerading as health care providers or suppliers.  In FY 2011, strike force operations charged a record number of 323 defendants, who allegedly collectively billed the Medicare program more than $1 billion.  Strike force teams secured 172 guilty pleas, convicted 26 defendants at trial and sentenced 175 defendants to prison.  The average prison sentence in strike force cases in FY 2011 was more than 47 months.

Including strike force matters, federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against a total of 1,430 defendants for health care fraud related crimes.  This is the highest number of health care fraud defendants charged in a single year in the department’s history.  Including strike force matters, a total of 743 defendants were convicted for health care fraud-related crimes during the year.

In criminal matters involving the pharmaceutical and device manufacturing industry, the department obtained 21 criminal convictions and $1.3 billion in criminal fines, forfeitures, restitution and disgorgement under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.  These matters included the illegal marketing of medical devices and pharmaceutical products for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the distribution of products that failed to conform to the strength, purity or quality required by the FDA.

The departments also continued their successes in civil health care fraud enforcement during FY 2011.  Approximately $2.4 billion was recovered through civil health care fraud cases brought under the False Claims Act (FCA).  These matters included unlawful pricing by pharmaceutical manufacturers, illegal marketing of medical devices and pharmaceutical products for uses not approved by the FDA, Medicare fraud by hospitals and other institutional providers, and violations of laws against self-referrals and kickbacks.  This marked the second year in a row that more than $2 billion has been recovered in FCA health care matters and, since January 2009, the department has used the False Claims Act to recover more than $6.6 billion in federal health care dollars.

The fraud prevention and enforcement report announced today coincides with the announcement of a proposed rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services aimed at recollecting overpayments in the Medicare program. Before the Affordable Care Act, providers and suppliers did not face a deadline for returning taxpayers’ money. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, there will be a specific timeframe by which self-identified overpayments must be returned. The Obama Administration has made prevention and recollection of overpayments a government-wide priority. These announcements today are just the latest in a series of steps that the administration is taking to protect taxpayer dollars and keep money in the pockets of Americans.

The HCFAC annual report can be found here, oig.hhs.gov/publications/hcfac.asp.  For more information on the joint DOJ-HHS Strike Force activities, visit: www.StopMedicareFraud.gov/.

For more information on the fraud prevention accomplishments under the Affordable Care Act visit:http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2012/02/medicare-fraud02142012a.html