Imprisoned CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou Blasts Bureau of Prisons’ ‘Strident Anti-Family’ Policies
CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who is serving a prison sentence at the federal correctional institution in Loretto, Pennsylvania, writes in a new letter about the the Bureau of Prisons’ “stridently anti-family” policies. The letter comes as Kiriakou is counting down the days until February 3, 2015, when he moves to house arrest, and the formal end of his sentence on May 1.
Firedoglake has been publishing “Letters from Loretto” by Kiriakou, who was the first member of the CIA to publicly acknowledge that torture was official US policy under the George W. Bush administration. He was convicted in October 2012 after he pled guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) when he confirmed the name of an officer involved in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program to a reporter. He was sentenced in January 2013, and reported to prison on February 28, 2013.
Acknowledging that his “incarceration has been easy” and “boring” at times, he adds that he is fortunate that he had the “strong support” of family. Not all prisoners have this kind of support.
Kiriakou argues that BOP’s commitment to “maintain and strengthen families” is a “bad joke at best and a cynical cruelty at worst. Despite the happy talk, real BOP policies are stridently anti-family.”
For example, a judge could order a first-time nonviolent offender to serve his or her sentence in a halfway house or at home under house arrest. This would help that person’s family remain intact.
“The prisoner would contribute to society by working and paying taxes, and he would be able to pay any fines or restitution he may have,” Kiriakou writes. “In prison, he can do none of these things, and indeed, he is a burden on society to the tune of nearly $30,000 a year.”
But judges and the Justice Department very rarely use their power to determine how a person serves his or her sentence, even though they know that “community and family ties are key elements in reducing recidivism.”
Additionally, although BOP claims it tries to incarcerate inmates within 500 miles of their home, this still can mean a person is far enough away that the person’s family does not have the “money, time or wherewithal to make the trip.” Prisoners can also be transferred to new facilities as punishment, as Kiriakou notes when describing how his friend Clint was moved from a prison in Arizona to Loretto because he “got into a dispute with a crooked Corrections Officer (CO).”
Kiriakou explains how these “anti-family” policies have impacted him. He asked the judge to recommend Loretto because it was the “closest decent camp” to his home. He was not incarcerated at the minimum security camp as he thought would happen. Had he known he would be put in a low security facility, he would have asked to be incarcerated at the facility in Petersburg, Virginia, which is only an hour and 40 minutes from his home.
The visiting hours for family and friends are not sufficient, especially because the BOP limits visits to four per month.
“Those visits can be only on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays, and they can only be from 8:30am to 2:15pm (other prisons go to 3:30 pm). As there is sometimes a long screening period for visitors, some may not be admitted until 9:00 am or later. On weekends and holidays, any visitor who arrives after 9:15 am must wait until 10:30 am for admittance, lest he or she interfere with the 10:00am prisoner count,” according to Kiriakou.
“Loretto’s visitation room holds about 30 prisoners and their visitors, for a total of about 90-100 people. At three visiting days per week, that’s 90 prisoners per week who have visits. What about the remaining 1100 prisoners? Tough luck.”
This affected Kiriakou when the prison informed him his children would have to leave the visitors room because there was not enough space. His wife and children had traveled about three and a half hours to have their monthly visit and the prison chose to deny him time with his kids.
Finally, Kiriakou explains that a prisoner only has 300 minutes he can use to make phone calls to “wives, children, parents, siblings and lawyers.” An inmate can use these up very quickly. And, on top of that, prison officials will take away minutes arbitrarily, like if a person is involved in fighting, smoking or gambling, “being rude to a CO” “having more than 10 books or three bars of soap in your locker,” etc.
It is the holiday season and prisoners should be able to count on being able to see their families. Kiriakou’s experience suggests there is no guarantee if families make the trip to see someone in prison that the facility will accommodate families and make sure those family members get to have their visit.
Hello again from the Federal “Correctional” Institution at Loretto, PA. I’m counting down the days until I move to house arrest on February 3 – 77 to go – and until the formal end of my sentence on May 1. In all honesty, my incarceration has been easy. Boring, but easy. I have great friends, new and old, and I’ve been especially fortunate to have the strong support of my family. That’s something not all prisoners have. And the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) claim that its policy is to “maintain and strengthen families” is a bad joke at best and a cynical cruelty at worst. Despite the happy talk, real BOP policies are stridently anti-family. Let me explain.
First, our congressionally-mandated and judicially-imposed sentencing regime, by its very nature, divides families. While judges may not have discretion over the lengths of some sentences (Congress has enacted draconian mandatory minimums), they certainly have discretion over the nature of those sentences. For example, a judge can order a newly-convicted prisoner to serve his or her entire sentence in a halfway house or at home under house arrest. Let’s say this prisoner’s a first-time, nonviolent offender. House arrest is still incarceration, but the prisoner’s family would remain in tact, the prisoner would contribute to society by working and paying taxes and he would be able to pay any fine or restitution he may have. In prison, he can do none of these things, and indeed, he is a burden on society to the tune of nearly $30,000 a year.
Judges know, and the government acknowledges, that community and family ties are key elements in reducing recidivism. In fact, neither the Justice Department nor judges do anything at all to keep families together. The entire “policy” is nothing more than lip service. Personally, I wonder why the BOP even has work camps, for example. If a prisoner is so low a threat that he is sent to a camp to serve his sentence, a camp which has no fences and where the prisoner is permitted to work off-campus, why can’t he just be sentenced to house arrest and keep his family together? Why not make the camps for prisoners with more than three years to serve?
What happens in real life is that you are given your sentence and you either self-surrender on a certain date or the Marshals take you into custody and ship you to a prison. In almost every case, the judge will “recommend” a prison, although this recommendation carries no weight at all. The BOP, for its part, says it will “try” to incarcerate you within 500 miles of your home. That’s 500 miles as the crow flies. So it’s not unusual for prisoners to be technically within 500 miles of home but still so far way that their families don’t have the money, time or wherewithal to make the trip.
Furthermore, the BOP makes routine use of transfers for punishment. You may recall my friend Clint. Clint is from northern Texas. Upon sentencing, he was transferred to a prison in Arizona, too far away for his elderly parents and teenage daughter to visit. Clint got into a dispute with a crooked Corrections Officer (CO) in the Arizona prison, and, as punishment, was transferred to Loretto. He hasn’t seen his parents or daughter in seven years.
My friend Mark is in a similar position. Mark caught his case in southern New Jersey, just outside Philadelphia. After an appeal reduced his sentence to 30 years, Mark was set to be transferred to a medium-security prison. The medium nearest home was in Fairton, NJ, 30 minutes away. Mediums in Allenwood and Schuykill, PA, were three and three-and-a-half hours away, respectively. So where did the BOP send Mark? To McKean, PA, eight hours away. He never had a single visit the entire time he was at McKean. If you complain, prison officials will smugly tell you to go fly a kite. If you are a prison informant—a rat—however, you have a much better chance of being placed near your home.
Loretto is three hours and 15 minutes from my house, and my wife and kids visit monthly. I asked the judge to recommend Loretto because it was the closest decent camp to home. Of course, I didn’t go to the camp. If I had known that, I would have asked to go to Petersburg, VA, an hour and 40 minutes from home. Not that it would have made much of a difference. Loretto’s anti-family philosophy is like every other prison’s.
Here’s what I mean. Despite the stated goal of seeking to “maintain and strengthen family ties,” each inmate is allowed only four visits per month. Those visits can be only on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays, and they can only be from 8:30am to 2:15pm (other prisons go to 3:30 pm). As there is sometimes a long screening period for visitors, some may not be admitted until 9:00 am or later. On weekends and holidays, any visitor who arrives after 9:15 am must wait until 10:30 am for admittance, lest he or she interfere with the 10:00am prisoner count.
Loretto’s visitation room holds about 30 prisoners and their visitors, for a total of about 90-100 people. At three visiting days per week, that’s 90 prisoners per week who have visits. What about the remaining 1100 prisoners? Tough luck. And if there are too many people visiting the fortunate 90, the COs will unceremoniously throw them out, as I described happened to my family in a previous Letter from Loretto. So much for maintaining and strengthening family ties.
You would think that prisoners who can’t get visits could at least rely on phone calls to stay in touch with family members. The BOP allows each prisoner 20 15-minute calls per month, for a total of 300 minutes (unless you’re a rat, in which case you get 400 minutes). With those 300 minutes, prisoners call their wives, children, parents, siblings and lawyers. Believe me, 300 minutes don’t go very far.
And there is something that makes matters even worse. When a prisoner gets in trouble, COs write an “incident report” and the prisoner is punished. The BOP’s go-to sanctions for rules violations are to take away visits and phone calls, for a minimum of 90 days each. What kind of “incidents” am I talking about? They can be anything from fighting, smoking or gambling to being rude to a CO, to having more than 10 books or three bars of soap in your locker. Do you have two tubes of toothpaste instead of one? No contact with your kids for three months! It’s Neanderthal.
That’s the nature of the US prison system. Start with bad law, add vindictive judges and have the whole thing run by people you wouldn’t even want living in your neighborhood. For all the jabbering about families and rehabilitation, it’s all just a big lie from a failed bureaucracy. Our government should be ashamed of itself.
Until next time, best regards.
PS: Please take a minute to visit www.marklanz.net, my friend Mark’s new website. Mark is seeking executive clemency. Please consider signing his petition. Thank you!