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Judiciary Committee hearing -- Rising Prison Costs PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Richard Martin   
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 13:58

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing.  This is an important subject, and I’m glad the committee is examining it.  I thank the witnesses for being here today, and I look forward to their testimony.

 

I have, in the past, mentioned my concern about what I call the “Leniency Industrial Complex.”  There are some people in Congress, the public, academia, and the media, who think that sentences that are being imposed on serious criminal offenders are too stringent and that we need to be finding ways to let prisoners out of prison early.

 

Despite the repeated calls of this growing industry, keeping criminals in prison makes sense.  People should serve the time that the law provides for their crimes.  By keeping convicted criminals in prison, it prevents them from committing future crimes.  The data supports this common sense fact.

 

It is true that incarceration is up in recent years, but crime is down, significantly so.  Of course, other factors also had a role, like improvements to policing.  The tactics adopted by cities across the country in the 1990s, starting with New York City under Mayor Giuliani and Commissioner Bill Bratton, certainly were effective in reducing crime.  But there’s no serious doubt that incarceration is a major reason for the historically low crime rates that the United States now enjoys.

 

When considering cost effectiveness of incarceration, we need to remember that there are costs to crime, too.  Keeping people in prison reduces costs to society of those people committing more crimes when they are let out.  I have to wonder why the one area of domestic spending that the Obama administration wants to cut is prison funding.

 

Now, I also believe in being smart about crime.  If there are ways to prevent crime and punish criminals, while also saving money, I’m all in favor.  But, that cost savings shouldn’t be at the expense of public safety.

 

I have two concerns about moves to release prisoners to reduce costs to the criminal justice system.  First, we have to make sure that any programs to reduce incarceration costs will actually work.  So far, the evidence isn’t promising.

 

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) recently found that a pilot program letting elderly prisoner’s serve out the ends of their terms in residential facilities cost more money than keeping them in BOP facilities.  While a Government Accountability Office review of this data questioned the BOP’s data, it raises even more questions about whether this policy is well founded and should even continue, let alone be expanded.

 

Unfortunately, we have a problem around here continuing to fund programs that don’t meet their intended goals.  And, just like this elderly offender pilot, a lot of the programs that were created under the Second Chance Act have no empirical evidence to prove that they work in reducing recidivism.  So absent this evidence, it’s not cost effective to set up programs that don’t work.

 

Second, I’m concerned that efforts to save money will come at the expense of public safety.  For example, I often hear about how there are so many “non-violent” offenders in prison who can be let out early.  Well, is someone who sells drugs while carrying a firearm a “non-violent” offender?  He may not have killed someone this time, but he surely was prepared to.

 

I also hear about “non-violent,” “first time” offenders in the context of white collar crime.  Bernie Madoff was a non-violent, first time offender, too.  And he got what he deserved.   I certainly hope any effort to change incarceration practices doesn’t lead to a get-out-of-jail-free card for white collar criminals.  I think the victims who lost their life’s saving would have something different to say about the cost savings achieved by letting someone like Madoff out early.

 

This brings up another important element of the debate over what to do about rising costs of incarceration.  Maybe this debate is focusing on the wrong end of the process.  As I said, I think people who have been convicted should serve their sentences.  But if there’s a problem with the federal criminal justice system, perhaps we should focus on who and what gets prosecuted.

 

For example, I’m very concerned that no major figures responsible for the financial crisis have been prosecuted.  As I understand it, most people being prosecuted for things like mortgage fraud are low-level criminals that feed off the lax oversight.  While they were convicted and should serve time in prison, why aren’t we asking where the prosecutions of the kingpins of the financial crisis are?

 

There is also an issue of whether the federal government focuses enough on major crimes that fall squarely into federal jurisdiction or is instead federalizing state crimes.  That’s a conversation we can and should have.  It’s also something that we might truly be able to reach a bi-partisan agreement on fixing.

 

So this issue is more complex than just the dollar cost of building and sustaining prisons.  We need to remember that crime has a cost to society and not just the federal budget.  Shortsighted efforts to cut budgets today could cause long-term damage by reversing the decades of falling crime rates.

 

The public deserves an honest conversation about the costs of prisons, so I’m glad we’re having this hearing.  I just want to make sure budget costs don’t trump public safety.  Thank you.

 
Loebsack: Congress Doesn’t Deserve a Summer Vacation PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Joe Hand   
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 13:47

Again Calls for Congress to Skip Vacation and Get to Work

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement today after the Republican Majority in the House of Representatives voted to go on vacation for five weeks.  Loebsack has called on Congress to stay in session multiple times to get critical work done.

“Time and again, Congress has kicked the can down the road, punted, and taken a pass on actually getting something done.  Now the Republican Majority has voted to go on vacation for the next five weeks while our farmers suffer through the worst drought in 60 years, Iowans struggle to find jobs, and critical issue after critical issue facing our nation goes unaddressed.   It is the height of irresponsibility.

“It’s time for Washington politicians to learn what every kid in Iowa knows - if you don’t do your homework all year, you get summer school, not summer vacation. Congress must stay and get to work, not continue taking votes for politics’ sake and then give themselves 37 days of undeserved vacation.  Iowans are sick and tired of this Washington business as usual, and, frankly, so am I.”

 ###

 
‘Moving Meditation’ Offers Protection from Distress PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ginny Grimsley   
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 12:48

Would you like protection from anxiety and the harmful effects of stress in your life? 
Mary Jo Ricketson -- nurse, teacher, certified yoga instructor and personal trainer -- shows readers the way in her new book Moving Meditation (www.thegoodwithin.com).

“We all have within us the potential to experience peace and optimal well-being,” she says. “To be safe from all distress we must learn to live in the present moment, for the present moment holds the key to our potential I call the Good Within.”

The body is always present, grounded in the present moment by gravity, she says.  The daily practice of exercises in Moving Meditation disciplines the mind to stay at home in the space of the body, safe from all distress.

“We’re not free from stress – that’s not possible or desirable,” Ricketson says. “But we’re able to choose a response to the stress from a state of mind-body that is grounded, centered and strong. We learn to think and move from a space of open heart and open mind and become response-able -- able to respond to the stress in ways that promote life and optimal well-being.”

For many people, she says, living in the present moment is like living in a foreign land. Research over the past 10 years shows that for most people, up to 90 percent of their thoughts are fixed on the past with regret or remorse, or racing ahead to the future with worry and anxiety.

“Discomfort, tension and disease all stem from the inability of the mind-body to respond to stress in ways that are life-giving rather than self-defeating,” Ricketson says. “We forfeit our opportunity to respond effectively when the mind is not fully present to the body in times of distress. When the mind is not present to its own being in the space of the body, we cannot expect to be present for others.”

When the mind is absent, people experience a feeling of abandonment, which triggers a stress response. Through the autonomic nervous system, the body purposefully creates tension, increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate and other physiological changes. This is how the body gets us to “come to our senses,” Ricketson says.

In training, she reminds her clients to “come home”-- to call the mind home so that they can respond in the most effective way possible.

When people learn to discipline the mind to stay fully present in the body, they are most able to meet the challenges they face in ways that decrease stress and promote life. They gain confidence and strength in their ability to let stress work for them rather than against them.  Peace and well-being follow this conscious union of mind and body, Ricketson says.

“It is in this space of conscious union that we meet God,” she says. “Through our training of mind and body, we can learn to be with God here on Earth.  Conscious now of God’s presence, we come to know and feel all we are made to be.  You are made to know peace and well-being.  It is within you.  Practice being present and you will see the Good Within come to life.”

About Mary Jo Ricketson

Mary Jo Ricketson has studied human health and well-being for decades, earning a bachelor of science in nursing and a master’s in education. In 1999, she opened the Center for Mind-Body Training, which offers classes, seminars and personal training. She offers yoga training in her studio, at schools, and in corporate settings. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and two children.

 
Iowa's Freedom Rock on Iowa License Plates PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maria Sorensen   
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 08:49

The famous Iowa landmark known as The Freedom Rock, which sits just off I-80, may soon be making its appearance in another way, on Iowa license plates. The artist of The Freedom RockI Ray Sorensen Il submitted an application to the DOT last spring and it was approved.

Before the plates will actually be manufactured for distributionI Sorensen must collect 500 paid applications (see below for application). The application is for anyone who may be interested in purchasing a Freedom Rock license plate. Those wishing to order a numbered plate will need to submit $25 along with their application and those wishing to order a personalized plate will need to submit $50 along with their application.

The Freedom Rock license plate may be displayed on the following vehicles: automobiles, motor homes, multipurpose vehicles, trucks (3, 4 and 5 ton), travel trailers, trailers and motorcycles. The annual renewal fee for these plates is $5, which is due at the time the vehicle owner plays their annual vehicle registration renewal fee.

"My wife and I were renewing our plates and while we were looking at the options we both said, that would be cool to have The Freedom Rock logo on there. So my wife did the paperwork and got it going. We just thought it'd be another unique way to honor our Veterans since the Freedom Rock is only in Iowa." Sorensen said.

Once Sorensen has obtained 500 paid applicationsI the applications, fees collected and an excel spreadsheet will be submitted to the  of Vehicle Services. The manufacturing and distribution ofthe new plates will occur

approximately six to eight weeks after receipt of the 500 paid applications.

"We're getting a steady pace [oiC applications] through the mail and lots of interest in them but we still have a ways to go But we have some time so we're hopeful." Sorensen said of the process so far.

The deadline for submission is February of 2013. Individuals interested in applying should make checks out to: The Freedom Rock and must mail applications to:

The Freedom Rock
P.0. Box 97
Greenfleld, IA 50849

Speciñc questions for the DOT should be directed to: LaVonne A Short, the executive ofñcer of Ofñce of Vehicle Services at: 515.237.3110.

lf you would like more information about this topic or to schedule an interview with Ray Sorensen ll, please Contact Maria at 515.306.4290 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 
House Sends Andrew Connolly Veterans' Housing Act to President's Desk PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Amanda Bowman   
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 08:47

Braley-authored bill extends & expands disabled vets housing program for 10 years

 

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) announced that the Andrew Connolly Veterans’ Housing Act was passed overwhelmingly by the US House today.  The legislation, authored by Braley last year, will extend for ten years a Veterans’ Administration adaptive housing grant program that helps injured and disabled veterans retrofit their homes to make them more disability-accessible.

 

Without this legislation, included as part of the Honoring American Veterans Act of 2011, the adaptive housing project would have expired at the end of 2012.

 

“Meeting Andrew, Jenny and Brody Connolly will always be one of the highlights of my life,” Braley said.  “They inspired me, the people of Dubuque and members of both parties in Congress to do more to help one another.  Andrew would have turned 29 this week and I can think of no more fitting tribute to his memory than this bill being signed into law.”

 

The Andrew Connolly Veterans’ Housing Act is named after the late Andrew Connolly of Dubuque – an Iowa Army National Guardsman who returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with a tumor in his spine. With Braley’s help, Connolly was able to get a grant that allowed him to move into a wheelchair-accessible home until his untimely death in August 2011.  Connolly became an advocate for expanding the program, despite his failing health.

 

The bill will extend the adaptive housing grant program for disabled veterans for ten years, through Dec. 31st, 2022.  The legislation also increases the adaptive housing grant limit for temporary housing to $28,000, and increases the total adaptive housing grant limit from $63,780 to $91,780, revising current law to exclude the temporary residence adaptation grant from counting towards the total grant amount.

 

VA Veterans Adaptive Housing Grant Limits

 

Current Law

Andrew Connolly Act (Passed Today)

Expiration Date

December 31, 2012

December 31st, 2022

Temporary Housing Grant Limit

$14,000

$28,000

Permanent Housing Grant Limit

$63,780

$63,780

TOTAL Housing Grant Limit

$63,780

$91,780

 

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