Former Inmate Offers Solution to Increasing Federal Prison Population – Reinstate Federal Parole for Nonviolent Offenders.

The federal prison population has more than doubled since 1995, 72 percent of which are nonviolent offenders with no history of violence. The Justice Department for the Bureau of Prisons recently requested an increase of $606 million for fiscal year 2012, adding new facilities and roughly 4,672 new beds.
Granted, something has to be done to release the burden on the overcrowding within the federal prison system. Although the Obama administration has to immediately address this issue — hence the budget increase — it may be a good idea to consider reinstating the system that was once in place prior to the drug overdose of former NBA superstar Len Bias.
Almost three decades ago Bias, the former NBA player, died from a cocaine overdose, prompting Congress to replace federal parole with Mandatory Minimum Sentencing. This method does not allow judges to depart from sentences that have been categorized by law, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the offense.
Many judges have objected to the loss of discretion they once had prior to implementation of this new law.
According to statistics, this has caused the federal prison population to grow immensely, in particular in the area of nonviolent offenses. No longer is the federal prison system designed for the elite that commit offenses; a great deal of substance abusers and low level drug dealers wind up in the federal prison system for very, very long periods of time — in essence causing the federal prison system to bulge at the seams.
I served almost 20 years for a nonviolent offense when a five or 10 year prison term would have sufficed and got the job done. Punishment would have been met and I definitely would not have committed another crime. Had federal parole still been in place, maybe I would have been out of prison and on to becoming a productive member of society within a fraction of the almost twenty years I spent inside the system.
According to the Justice Department, it seems the increase in the federal prison budget will definitely address areas that are much needed, such as:
* Managing the ever increasing federal inmate population.
* Providing for the care and safety of the inmates.
* Maintaining appropriately safe and secure prisons required to ensure the safety of BOP staff, inmates, and surrounding communities.
Personally, I don’t feel the president is supportive of the “lock them up and throw away the key” method for all nonviolent offenders, because if he felt that way, he never would have signed The Fair Sentencing Act into law.
The proposed increase in the federal prison budget, in my opinion, is an attempt to address the problems within the prison system faced by staff and inmates alike, such as ensuring that inmates are receiving proper medical care. In addition, a lot of the prison staff is working double if not triple time … which can’t be good for any human being.
If nothing more is clear from all this, I think we can all agree that something has to be done about the continued growth in the federal prison population. In addition to the proposed budget request from the FBOP, I suggest bringing back federal parole, making it retroactive and having a parole board determine whether each nonviolent offender that comes up for their parole review is ready to reenter society.
We would definitely see a decrease in the overcrowded prison population, the costly spending to maintain and accommodate the ever growing federal prison population would decrease, and maybe they can become productive taxpayers and promote safer communities — in particular if they are given the needed support of jobs and shelter.
Maybe I’m just too optimistic…

Contact Vikki Hankins at
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Poinciana business owner laments the direction Osceola County’s school district appears to be heading in.

Wendy Farrell runs Signature Promotions in Poinciana, where she lives.

Editor’s Note: Wendy Farrell lives in Poinciana and runs her own business, Signature Promotions, with her husband, Chris. She’s also active in the local schools and has chaired the education subcommittee for the Poinciana Area Council, a group of business owners in Poinciana who meet once at month. Farrell wrote this column after the recent decision by Osceola School Superintendent Michael Grego to retire.

Can the Osceola School District heal and move on?
The past few months have been tumultuous in the school district. We were riding on the high of all our high schools being As or Bs, of improved graduation rates and lower drop out rates … and then things came crashing down.
The real reason for Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Grego leaving is probably only known by a few; the rest of us can only speculate. I believe it’s a great loss to our school district, but he has made his decision and it was time to move on.
Then came the bombshell of Mrs. Barbara Horn’s motion to have him leave early. This motion (not on any agenda) was made toward the end of a special workshop (on
March 29), primarily about Gateway High School’s IB Program. Watching that video, it seemed to me and others that two out of five board members (Julius Melendez and Jay Wheeler) were out of the ‘loop’ as they reeled in shock. School Board member Tom Long second the motion, almost without discussion, and School Board Chair Cindy Hartig seemed to explain exactly what the motion was. It was a surreal thing to watch. I am not surprised that Mr. Melendez wanted discussion on it and what he said made total sense, but he and Mr. Wheeler lost the vote 2-3.
The word ‘distraction’ is being banded about, a lot of finger pointing is going on, there’s back door politicking, and each passing day the focus moves more away from the students and education. Things need to be addressed through proper channels. I’m all for transparency in procedures and accounting, and School Board members have the right to question staff. But there are ways of doing it without being disrespectful or questioning somebody’s integrity. There are rules and regulations that our school
district works to address, and issues can easily be resolved through proper channels. Ms. Hartig questioned the authenticity of class size amendment statistics, and the Florida Department of Education confirmed within days that no wrongdoing had been done by district staff. Nipped in the bud, done — move on. Maybe Gov. Rick Scott needs to investigate possible violations of Sunshine State Law with regard to accusations of collusion by board members before board meetings, if to do no more than prove nothing went on. You put it to bed and move on.
The hiring of a new superintendent is going to be hard unless we draw a line under all this ‘distraction.’ I look at what’s gone on with the hiring of an interim superintendent and all the confrontations and accusations at the most recent board meeting. I’m with Mr. Melendez on this, the decision on how to appoint should have been next in
‘command’, simple decision, straight forward. That person (Ms. Pace, the current assistant superintendent) holds the reigns until the permanent superintendent is recruited. It’s simple, back and white, that’s what happens in the Military and in Corporate America. It’s the best way to ensure continuity and stability in a transitional period. Yet the School Board (or three of them, anyway) chose another person, whom many may deem as an ‘odd’ choice — especially the general public at large.
Having been in this school district for 11 years, its evolution has been interesting to watch. Where we go from here will depend on how the leadership acts. School Board members need to remember that they are elected by the people, and the people need to remember that you get what you’re given if you don’t bother to vote. Our school board ‘leader’ needs to remember that if you look over your shoulder and there’s no one behind you, you are leading nothing. You need your ‘whole’ team’s support as much as
possible. But most importantly, the focus needs to get back to our kids and their education!
Can we please turn the page?

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Tech Today: the PayPal iPhone app and a new way of doing business.

Are traditional wallets on the way out now that Paypal and other electronic online financial services provide the equivalent of the e-wallet?

Editor’s Note: Matthew Chapman of Avalon Park is an iPhone/iPad developer and owner of Origin Technologies. In the first of a series of articles about technology trends, Matt has some thoughts to share about the new Paypal iPhone app.

So I am sure that most, if not all of you, have heard and likely used PayPal. Some of you may have started using the “bump pay” feature available in the newest version of the PayPal iPhone app. Companies are finding increasingly ways to use not only a digital method for receiving payment, but a mobile one as well. Let’s look at some of the trends.

I already mentioned PayPal, and while they were one of the first companies to join this revolution of being able to send money to your friends or pay for things on eBay, they are most certainly not the last. A company called Square ( is bringing a whole new way for businesses and individuals to accept payments.
The company provides a free account and links to your bank account for daily direct deposits of monies received. The pricing for this service, which accepts credit cards, is a flat 2.75 percent per swipe. What makes the service even more interesting is that when you signup they send you a little card reader for your iPhone/iPad that plugs into your headphone jack.
The app that comes with the service also allows you to customize your available services if you use it to process business transactions. Some business owners use it as the credit card processor instead of one from a bank-based merchant device. Some banks charge different processing fees based on how many transactions or worse yet, charge the merchant more if the total price is less than $30. Square charges just the flat fee per swipe.
What else makes this service so cool? Well, you don’t have to be a company to take advantage of it. A few weeks back, some of the biggest neighborhoods in East Orlando were having their spring garage sales. If you wanted to allow your garage sale, Craigslist, or other classified customer to pay for your expensive item via credit card, you could have used Square rather than letting that sale go due to lack of cash. Several companies have come forward to embrace the swipe-to-pay as a mobile iPhone app tie in. I think that Square is well ahead of the curve on this one.
So what’s next? NFC (Near Field Communications) is a technology that allows a chip to transmit or receive information from a distance of about four inches. So far, this technology is already in a new Android phone and is rumored to be in a future iPhone. The technology has been used in Japan for years in things like vending machines. Vending machines there allow a credit card with the chip to just be waved in front of the machine to pay.
I think Apple, if they do this, will tie the chip to your iTunes account-registered card and allow users to wave the phone at a payment system and voila, paid. I can see driving thru McDonalds one day with nothing more than your phone. Touch the screen for what you want, wave your phone at the screen, get your “thanks pull around” prompt and drive around to enjoy your fries.
For questions or suggestions, contact me at Matt at

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