The violent crime control and law enforcement act, truth-in-sentencing incentive grants, and mass incarceration as a form of genocide
Rowe, Uhuru Baraka
THE VIOLENT CRIME CONTROL AND LAW ENFORCEMENT ACT, TRUTH-IN-SENTENCING INCENTIVE GRANTS, AND MASS INCARCERATION AS A FORM OF GENOCIDE.
By: Uhuru Baraka Rowe (A.K.A Brian Lee Rowe) 11-21-14
I am the product of a large African-American working class family from the South side of the city of Richmond, Virginia. I am the son of married parents, and a brother to three brothers and three sisters. During the late 80's to early 90's, Richmond was plagued with drugs, prostitution, and numerous homicides- ranking Richmond the murder capital of the entire country back in 1984. Having fell victim to the so-called "street life," by the time I was 17-years-old, I was arrested on numerous felonies and on my way to becoming a full blown alcoholic. My life reached the point of no return a couple months after my 18th birthday when I was involved in a robbery that resulted in the shooting deaths of two innocent people. Faced with insurmountable evidence of my guilt, I plead guilty to six felonies, including two counts of 2nd degree and robbery. Taking into account the fact I was barely 18-years-old at the time of the crime, the fact that I was not the triggerman, and my lack of prior adult felony record or history of violence, the sentencing guidelines recommended a maximum sentence of only 13 years. Judge James B. Wilkinson, who had a well documented history of sentencing black defendants to excessively long sentences, ignored the guidelines and sentenced me to an aggregate prison term totaling 93 years without the possibility of parole. At present, I have been incarcerated for nearly 20 consecutive years.
Because Virginia had already abolished parole, when my crime occurred, I must serve 85% of my sentence before I am eligible for release. I will die in prison before my scheduled released date of May 15, 2076 comes to fruition.
Virginia was one of the many states which abolished parole and required those sentenced to prison time to serve a minimum of 85% of their sentences in order to receive federal funding under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. This law included a provision for Truth-in-Sentencing Incentive Grants, which provided funds to state and local correctional systems to expand their capacity to incarcerate violent offenders and to impose long and more determinate sentences. This law, codified as Title 42, U.S.C.S Section 13704, was sponsored and introduced by Representative Jack Brooks (TX-9) and signed into law by President Bill Clinton the following year.
The law (42 U.S.C.A Section 13704) states, in pertinent part, that "To be eligible to receive a grant award under this section, a State shall submit an application to the Attorney General that demonstrates that (a) such state has implemented truth-in-sentencing laws that (i) requires persons convicted of a part 1 violent crime serving on average not less than 85 percent of the sentence imposed (without counting time not actually served, such as administrative or statutory incentives for good behavior; (8) such state has truth-in-sentencing laws that have been enacted, but not yet implemented, that require such state, not later than 3 years after such state submits an applications to Attorney General, to provide that persons convicted of a part 1 violent crime serve not less than 85 percent of the sentence imposed (without counting time not actually served, such as administrative or statutory incentives for good behavior)."
This federal law providing incentive grants inspired Virginia to adopt its own legislation abolishing parole and requiring prisoners to serve no less than 85% of their sentences. This legislation (House Bill No. 5001) was passed and signed into law on October 13, 1994, during a special session of the Virginia General Assembly and codified as Virginia Code Section 53.1-165.1 (Acts 1994, Sp. S.II, c.1, eff. October 13, 1994; Acts 1994, Sp.S. II, c.2. ef. Oct 13, 1994). For the first three years after the Implementation of this law (1996-1998), Virginia received a total of $11,201,786 in federal truth-in-sentencing incentive grants. Virginia stopped receiving federal truth-in-sentencing grants in 2007, but Virginia prisoners are still forced to serve 85% of their sentences and Virginia Code Section 53.1-165.1 has yet to be repealed.
V.A. Code Section 53.1-165.1 states, in part, that "...Any person sentenced to a term of incarceration for a felony offense committed on or after January 1, 1995, shall not be eligible for parole upon that offense," mandating prisoners serve 85% of their sentences. The only chance of release for serving lengthy prison terms under this so-called "85% law", is geriatric parole under Virginia Code Section 53.1-40.01, which states in part: "Any person serving a sentence imposed upon a conviction for a felony offense, other than a Class 1 felony, (i) who has reached the age of sixty-five or older and who has served at least five years of the sentence imposed or (ii) who has reached the age of sixty or older and who has served at least ten years of the sentence imposed may petition the Parole Board for conditional release..."
What this provision means is that if a person comes to prison at 18-years-old, that person will have to serve a minimum of forty-two years in prison-when he/she has reached the age of sixty-before he/she can petition the Parole Board for early release. The Virginia Parole Board denies these petitions on a routine basis even in cases where prisoners have a short time to live due to a terminal illness.
Prisoners such as me who came to prison in our youth are serving de facto (practical) life sentences without the possibility of parole. I will be one-hundred-years-old when I'm released from prison on May 15, 2076. However, because the life expectancy for a black male is 75 years, I will most likely die in prison unless Virginia Code Section 53.1-165.1 is repealed. And I am not alone.
There are currently more Blacks locked down in prison and jails across America than were imprisoned in South Africa at the height of apartheid; more Blacks incarcerated than were enslaved during the height of chattel slavery in 1850. With more than 2.5 million people-60% of them Black and Latino-in prisons, jails, and detention centers, America incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth. In addition to extracting cheap prison labor for private corporations, these prison are used as a tool for social control and genocide of people of color.
It was not too long ago when I saw Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones on the local news bragging about the "grand opening" of the new $140 mil. city jail called the Richmond Justice center. He was bragging about the Center's "superior technology" and "high tech" gadgetry even as the city's public school infrastructure is literally crumbling to the ground. Around the time of this "grand opening", city leaders had been in heated debate about how to come up with $35 million to fix up school buildings' leaky roofs, antiquated air conditioning units and boiler systems.
If there are any citizens in this country worthy of "superior technology' and "hightech" gadgetry, it is our school children, who are often neglected and forgotten, not prisoners.
The Virginia Department of the corrections has an annual operating budget of over $1 billion. Any concerned parent of school-aged children should pose the following question to their elected representative: WHY IS MY TAX DOLLARS BEING FUNNELED INTO THE PRISON INDUSTRY TO BUILD PRISONS THAT AREN'T NEEDED INSTEAD OF FUNDING AN EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM WITH UNDER-PAID TEACHERS, OVER-CROWDED CLASSROOMS, AND DILAPIDATED SCHOOL BUILDINGS?
"Incarceration over Education" is a failed political and economic strategy which fuels that school-to-prison pipeline. People should be outraged over such a failed strategy which prioritizes schools over prison and jailed.
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