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Memorandum to Attorney General Mitchell on Reform of the Federal Corrections System.

November 13, 1969

Memorandum for Honorable John N. Mitchell, the Attorney General:

The American system for correcting and rehabilitating criminals presents a convincing case of failure. No realistic program to substantially reduce crime can ignore the appalling deficiencies of our prisons and rehabilitation efforts.

Today, at least 40 percent of all offenders released from custody eventually return to prison. The FBI Uniform Crime Reports for 19681 show that 82 percent of a sample of offenders arrested in 1967-1968 had been arrested previously. 70 percent had a prior conviction and 46 percent had been imprisoned on a prior sentence.

1"Crime in the United States, Issued by J. Edgar Hoover, Uniform Crime Report-1968" (Government Printing Office, 187 pp.).

The FBI report also shows that 67 percent of persons charged with burglary, 71 percent charged with auto theft and 60 percent charged with armed robbery, had been arrested at least twice in the preceding seven years. For those under 20 years of age the repeater rates are even higher.

We must remember that crime control does not end with conviction and imprisonment: 19 out of every 20 men who enter prison one day return to society.

The purpose of this directive is to make the Federal correction system a prototype for the much needed overhaul of our generally archaic State and local corrections institutions. The Federal government should make every possible resource available to help States and local systems in similar reform efforts.

There has been some improvement in certain correctional programs in recent years, but it has not been enough. The problems of crime continue to outpace the solutions.

We must immediately begin to make greater progress in dealing with these problems. The processes for returning both criminal and juvenile offenders to a useful life in our society must be rapidly improved. It is most important that we improve not only the Federal system, however, but also the State and local systems which handle. the majority of offenders.

Unsuccessful correctional programs must be abandoned. Those which have proved successful must be accelerated and expanded. And new, bold and imaginative programs must be developed and implemented if we are to succeed where past efforts have failed.

I am therefore requesting you to take the following actions:

1. Prepare a ten-year program for complete modernization of the physical plants and correctional programs in the Federal prison system, with emphasis on developing model facilities and programs which State and local systems can follow.

2. Initiate discussions with State and local officials to explore the advisability and feasibility of constructing regional institutions to house State, local and Federal female offenders.

3. Give particular priority in the Federal corrections effort to the special problems presented by special categories of offenders, such as juveniles, women, and the mentally disturbed, with special emphasis on the use of alternatives to traditional institutionalization. These efforts should be consistent with the objectives of the juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act of 1968.

4. Expedite the planning and construction of a new Federal psychiatric study and treatment facility for mentally disturbed and violent offenders, and assist in the development of appropriate regional and State facilities for this largely neglected class of offender.

5. Develop recommendations for revising the Federal laws relating to the handling of the mentally incompetent charged with a Federal crime, serving a sentence for a Federal crime, or found not guilty solely because of a mental condition.

6. Expedite the planning and construction of Federal demonstration centers for urban areas. Consideration should be given to community-oriented facilities which combine detention efforts, adult and juvenile court diagnostic services, treatment programs for those incarcerated and for those on supervisory release and the half-way house concept.

7. Expand the Federal program of technical assistance to State and local governments that need help in improving correctional facilities and the quality of parole, probation and other alternatives to imprisonment.

8. Work to provide new vocational, educational and employment opportunities for persons on probation, in prison, and on parole, seeking out the cooperation and resources of private industry, and developing a government-wide system of coordination of this effort.

9. Expand training programs for correctional personnel at the Federal, State and local level.

10. Conduct a study to determine if the Federal corrections system can be made more effective by consolidating existing programs in a Unified Corrections Service.

11. Expand the use of "Half-Way House" Community Treatment Centers to include offenders on probation and parole as well as inmates preparing to return to society. Assist in the development of similar programs at the State and local level.

12. Institute a program of research, experimentation and evaluation of correctional methods and practices so that successful techniques may be identified quickly and applied broadly in all correctional systems.

13. In cooperation with other Departments and agencies, coordinate all Federal corrections programs, particularly those programs which assist State and local corrections activities.

I am asking that you report to me on your progress in six months and that you make any recommendations you may have for further action at that time.


Richard Nixon, Memorandum to Attorney General Mitchell on Reform of the Federal Corrections System. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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