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April 16, 2024

Congressman Trone Calls for Increased Funding for Job Training and Health Care, Improved Outcomes for the Bureau of Prisons in Hearing with AG Garland


April 16, 2024

Congressman Trone Calls for Increased Funding for Job Training and Health Care, Improved Outcomes for the Bureau of Prisons in Hearing with AG Garland

Congressman David Trone questions Attorney General Garland during the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman David Trone (D-MD) questioned Attorney General Garland during a Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. During the hearing, Trone asked questions about the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) staffing shortages, ID cards, telemedicine, solitary confinement, de-escalation training, clean slate laws, and the antitrust division. 

CONGRESSMAN DAVID TRONE: Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Cartwright, and thank you, Attorney General Garland for appearing here today, and thank you for your patience as you deal with this committee.  I’m a co-chair of the Bipartisan Second Chance Task Force, and we’re concerned about staffing shortages at the BOP. The BOP is funded at 93%. 

But we’re only staffed at 86%. What’s happening is education, wraparound services for mental health, etc, which could improve our outcomes, job training, get left behind. So we’re all in agreement on that. We’d like to figure out how to implement the bipartisan First Step Act successfully. And to do that, we’ve got to have the staffing.

Could you talk a minute about what this does to lead to lousy outcomes? Where we can’t cut our prison budget because we don’t give folks a second chance to win and succeed.  

I do think that the money we have to provide more incentives for people to stay on the job in the Bureau of Prisons means that the chances of reducing recidivism will increase. 

CONGRESSMAN DAVID TRONE: That sounds like a smart investment to me. Second quick question, 75 percent of BOP inmates do not have a photo ID when they leave prison. They can’t secure housing, apply for jobs, open a bank account, federal benefit programs, etc. The Bureau is addressing this by providing IDs to U. S. citizens now. We have a bipartisan bill, the BOP Release Card Act, that supports this effort at the BOP by ensuring new IDs fulfill all the requirements and directs BOP to work with the states to have a one-on-one exchange so we can work right with the states to move these folks into getting their new ID card and then successfully be able to exchange that for state ID cards. So we would appreciate your help in moving this bill forward. Does that make sense to you?

ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND: Yeah, we would be happy to give technical assistance. I think we may, our staff may have already, our staffs may have already consulted on this, but of course, we’d be happy to give technical assistance. The BOP has implemented its own release ID program in October of 2023 and they’re on track for implementation by this spring.

CONGRESSMAN DAVID TRONE: Excellent. Thank you. The DEA has extended current telemedicine flexibilities for prescribing controlled medications through December 31, ‘24.  But, there’s not a revised proposed rule and many patients are at risk of losing access to prescriptions needed for mental health and substance use disorder. Last year, my colleagues and I expressed concerns about the proposed DEA rule that would have limited patient access to buprenorphine and encourage an evidence-based approach to make permanent the use of audio-only or audio-visual telehealth technology for buprenorphine prescribing. This is crucial to reach these patient populations, including unhoused, rural, and tribal. So as a follow-up to that letter, we introduced the TREATS Act, which allows medication for opioid use disorder to be prescribed via telemedicine.

What’s DOJ’s position on the continued use of telehealth flexibilities to ensure access to these medically necessary substance use disorder treatments? And how is this supported in your budget request? 

ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND: So as you noted the DEA and HHS have extended the current telemedicine flexibilities until December 31st of this year. DEA has issued a proposed rule, which would allow authorized providers to prescribe medicines for opioid use disorder via telemedicine.  They are working to promulgate a final year by the — I’m sorry a final rule — by the fall of this year.  

CONGRESSMAN DAVID TRONE: Okay, excellent. Thank you very much. Just quickly, restrictive housing, otherwise known as solitary confinement, outdated, inhumane practice often used way too far too often.

We believe the BOP has been dragging its feet in reforming this area of restrictive housing. In the past 10 years, DOJ has conducted studies and task forces to improve restrictive housing, yet we fail to make any progress. What steps can DOJ and BOP take together so we can make this more effective and improve restrictive housing policies? 

ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND: Well, the new BOP director is very much committed to what you’re talking about. BOP recently published a proposed rule on discipline designed to reduce the use of restrictive housing for disciplinary segregation. BOP is trying to hire more psychologists and provide de-escalation training which would help reduce the need for restrictive housing. 

CONGRESSMAN DAVID TRONE: Excellent. Thank you very much. I yield back.  


CONGRESSMAN DAVID TRONE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Last year we helped pass the bipartisan Law Enforcement De-escalation Training Act, which provides 124 million in grant funding over four years for de-escalation training for police officers. This is going to save lives, improve police-community relations. Although this program is new, could you talk briefly about its implementation and more broadly how DOJ’s budget prioritizes mental health and crisis stabilization? 

ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND: Yeah, I don’t have the specifics with respect to that program, but as a general matter, our COPS office and our Office of Justice Programs provide de-escalation, money for de-escalation training, it is an important way to protect the lives of officers and first respondents as well as the people who are calling for help.

You are also right in the implication of your questions that many of these calls involve people who are mentally ill or have a mental impairment, and that the sensitivity of respondents to that possibility is an important element of the need for de-escalation.  

CONGRESSMAN DAVID TRONE: Thank you for your efforts there. 70 to 100 million Americans have criminal records that appear on routine background checks, often preventing them from getting jobs. Over the last seven years, my company has hired about 1,400 returning citizens, which is good for business and cuts down recidivism. Automatic clearing records are costly and have been a barrier to widespread adoption. What resources does the DOJ need to help support these clean slate laws?  

ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND: Well, I don’t think I’m, I’m gonna be able to, to talk to you specifically about the Clean Slate laws you know, in the area of criminal justice reform in the implementation of the Second Chance Act, which involves reentry programs, we’re asking for $125 million for those reentry programs. In addition, there is a new program called the Accelerating Justice System Reform Grants, which is a $300 million request for FY25 and $15 billion over 10 years. I’m not sure exactly whether the clean slate would fall within those, but I’ll ask my staff to get back to you on which of the grant programs go to the program here.

CONGRESSMAN DAVID TRONE: Yeah, we’d love to keep working with you. Last quick question to build on represent — Ranking Member DeLauro on the antitrust division. Should this committee take another look at the language that eliminates — stops you from having full access to the merger filing fees and locks you into that $233 million? 

ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND: Well, I’m gonna leave it to the Members of Congress to resolve this question. The Justice Department is in favor of the antitrust division getting full access to the fees. But you know, in the end, the Congress makes those determinations. 

CONGRESSMAN DAVID TRONE: Seems like a good idea. Thank you. 

ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND: It does seem like a good idea. Yes. 

Congressman David Trone was elected to the House of Representatives in November 2018 to serve the 6th District of Maryland, which includes all or part of Montgomery, Frederick, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties. Trone serves on the Appropriations, Budget, and Joint Economic Committees. In Congress, Trone is fighting to make progress on issues that matter to Marylanders.