Federal Bureau Of Prisons’ Misclassification Of Inmate Leads To Compassionate Release

Joshua Fields (District of New Hampshire, Case No. 14-cr-074-LM) had a troubled life. His substance abuse which started at age 9 was nothing more than a path to mental health issues and brushes with the criminal justice system. After pleading guilty to charges of being a felon in possession of a weapon, and mounting up a few prior criminal offenses, Fields pled guilty and was sentenced to 180 months in prison (later reduced to 120 months under a revised law). When he was sentenced in 2014, it was the intent of U.S. District Judge Landya McCafferty (New Hampshire) that Fields not only serve his term but also get the kind of treatment he needed for his mental health and drug abuse problems. Judge McCafferty noted at his sentencing, “He needs drug treatment. He needs help . . . He will be released at some point and be on supervised release.” Fields got none of the help that he needed in prison.

The federal Bureau of Prisons classifies inmates based on a security classification system. When someone initially comes into the prison system, the BOP puts a considerable amount of weight on the Presentence Report (PSR). That report, authored by US Probation, provides an overview of the criminal case, background information on the defendant (health conditions, family situation and past criminal record) and a substantial amount of personal information. The BOP relies on this report to classify the inmate and assign a security level to determine where the defendant will spend his/her sentence … those requiring more supervision go to higher security prisons, those with lesser supervision go to minimum security. Christopher J. Angles, a criminal defense attorney (not related to Fields’ case) told me in an interview, “As lawyers we have to pay attention to everything in the PSR because errors in it can literally change the trajectory of someone’s life from one of hope to one of tragedy.

Security level alone does not determine the security classification as the BOP can also apply what is known as a Public Safety Factor to elevate someone’s security level … one of those is for “sex offenders.” The sex offender Public Safety Factor is something used by the BOP to elevate the security level for anyone charged with a sex-related offense, making them ineligible for minimum security camp placement. In fact, it is the BOP’s discretion done to determine if the Public Safety Factor is applied. Whereas nothing in Fields’ case involved a sex offense, US Probation made a mistake in the Presentence Report by describing a past domestic incident that involved “groping.” In fact, the word “groping” was not even part of the police report of the incident, but the BOP read the Presentence Report and determined that Fields should get a sex offender Public Safety Factor. Among inmates in federal prison, sex offenders are often targeted for violence and extortion.

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