Herbert J. Hoelter
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Disrupting destructive federal sentencing cycles and providing new opportunities for people involved in the criminal justice system
Herbert J. Hoelter is the CEO of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA). Founded in 1977, NCIA is a private nonprofit organization dedicated to human service and correctional justice reform. The organization provides sentencing advocacy, works to lower the rates of suicide for those in custody, and assists adults and youth with career development opportunities and job skills training. Recognized for his his leadership at NCIA, Herb is a nationally renowned professional federal sentencing consultant who has been featured by The Boston Globe, The New York Post The Associated Press, and Fox News.
Herbert J. Hoelter spoke with citybizlist publisher Edwin Warfield for this interview.
EDWIN WARFIELD: What led to NCIA’s transition into areas other than criminal justice reform? What role did your co-founder Dr. Jerry Miller play?
HERBERT J. HOELTER: Jerry probably should have won a Genius Award from MacArthur probably a half dozen times during his career. He was a great humanitarian, brilliant. He had the issue of race and criminal justice in the mid-1980s before anybody ever thought about it. We’ve published a few books from a policy aspect. And then, in the late 1980s, Jerry ran an art gallery for us. We had arts for institutionalized people that we displayed down in Alexandria.
Jerry started to retire in the early 1990s and we got asked by the State of Maryland to do a lot of direct service programs to help deinstitutionalize the mental hospitals, the juvenile prisons in Maryland. So, we developed new models of care, new models of residential care, new models of vocational training, new models of education in Maryland since the early 1990s. We moved from two employees—Jerry and myself, in 1977—and we now have about 650 employees, most of them here in the Baltimore, Maryland area.
Q. Describe your approach. How do ensure NCIA continues operating?
A. We do very little advertising. Most of our work is repeat business with lawyers. We understand that most, even the very good criminal defense attorneys handle maybe a dozen sentences a year in federal court. We’re handling 200 a year, so we bring a lot to the table in terms of experience, in terms of what we can offer them when they build their sentencing arguments and sentencing litigation. I love lawyers and they’re my customers, but they’re often like doctors with terminally ill patients—you know, they got the defendant through the plea agreement, and now it’s up to the judge to determine, and it’s up to God to determine, what happens.
There’s a lot of interventions that can happen and we really specialize in developing alternative placements and alternative community service arguments, restitution arguments and the such. But we also work with families and defendants when they’re going to prison. It’s a little sideline business, because if you’re going to federal prison, you don’t know what to expect, and your family certainly doesn’t know what to expect. We do a lot of prison consultation with defendants, because it’s our view that not only the defendant serves a sentence but the family serves a sentence, and they need to understand the changes that they’re going to have to go through.
Just as a quick example: a lot of defendants say, “My wife’s going to come up and see me every weekend.” Well, it really doesn’t work like that because the wife’s at home with three kids and soccer games and churches and other aspects of their life, and the defendant’s up there, running the track and getting the six-minute mile in, and just being bored most of the time. So, we work on both the practical aspects of the prison sentence as well as the psychological aspects of the prison sentence that a defendant and a family is going to go through.
Q. How large is your scope?
A. It’s actually international. We’re doing a case right now over in Ireland on one of the Bitcoin defendants. We’ve done a number of cases in England; done a lot of cases in Canada. It’s primarily national, but we have been international also.
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