What does it take to get a horrible prison fixed? Who is in charge of overseeing corrections? Why isn't the public outraged at these conditions?
East Mississippi Correctional Facility has been investigated, reported on, and now ignored for years. Officials at Management and Training Corporation were required to walk the facility and note what needs fixing--years ago. Guess they then went home, took baths, and forgot what they saw. But you won't if you look at the photos in this linked article.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is, again, suing. Let's see if the rats who run MTC join the rats on the floors of the cells...
What if you were 16, on trial for being a robbery look-out gone wrong, and the prosecutor labeled you a 'monster' to your jury? Walter Dean Myers went inside the head of a high school kid in his novel for young people, Monster. The story is told as a film script, using Steven Harmon's high-school class experience in filmmaking. The novel reads fast, interspersed with thick-penciled diary entries and mug shots.
You will read a script text of Harmon's reaction to his initial booking, his fears inside the cells, his confusion about trial tactics, his depression and guilt. The book feels real; you will not remember that au author other than Harmon has written it. A nice touch: was Harmon 'guilty' or 'really guilty' of this crime? Are there degrees of guilt? Was the jury verdict one you agree with? Expected?
The Classroom and the Cell is a fascinating dialogue between federal political prison Mumia Abu-Jamal and Columbia education professor Marc Lamont Hill. It's in dialogue format, which is initially off-putting. But it works. The thoughtful exchange of ideas explore Black culture including hip-hop and religion, American education, and the population of prisons.
After examining issues from unusual and certainly provocative viewpoints, the authors agree on a few solutions:
de-carceration. Getting rid of the money bail system, pre-trial detention, early release for non-dangerous prisoners.
1.ex-carceration. Getting rid of incarceration as the primary or even secondary method of responding to crime. Treat drug addiction as the medical problem it is. Provide proper medical facilities like mental wards. Use community dispute resolution, restitution, suspended sentences, community probation. Although I bow to his experience and wisdom, I find it hard to accept his notion that even the worst of the worst prisoners can change with the right help. Maybe…. But certainly locking them into cages does not help anyone.
A 2013 study of the Bureau of Prisons has revealed that people are happier if they take part in the system that evaluates them. Yep. A 7-yera study by the U.S. Marshalls Service and the Dept. of Criminology at the University of Maryland has concluded what any first-grade teacher could have told us: inmates need to have a voice.
Ironically, the study sees as positive that prisoners' failure to complete the draconian steps of the Prison Litigation Reform Act and thus courts decide in BOP's favor. How is that a good thing, actually?
""The study appears to validate the BOP's grievance system. 'Generally speaking, people feel a process is more "just" when their voice is heard before decisions are made, decision makers treat everyone equally, outcomes are proportionate, and there is a process of appeal or challenge if they don't agree with an outcome.' Well, yes. Getting to vent about a problem is useful. But how does that make the BOP process a good part of incarceration?
Too smart and too rich for words, 25-year-old Michael Santos assumed that, if caught, he would be treated fairly well--he had never touched the stuff. The feds taught him differently. Despite having big-time lawyers, he received a 45-year sentence and began his real education--in all levels of prisons across the whole country. It was not the trip he had planned when he bought real estate in Spain.
Inside: Life Behind Bars in America is one of 6 or 7 books Santos has published since disappearing from his comfortable homes. He learned all his lessons and wants us to know them too--mostly, lessons about how punitive and un-correctional our correctional system is. Read this book and earn how the petty (drug dealers) get mixed with the mighty (murderers, rapists), and how the power system inside prisons parallels the one outside, but with horrific consequences. He was released in 2012 and plans to continue educating us.
Two prison activists collaborated to bring a 2000 book to life; activist/author Marc Mauer and artist Sabrina Jones have created a graphic novel that re-tells the history of prisons and explains prison policy. A Race to Incarcerate offers both stunning graphics and a readable, cautionary tale for young people and those who enjoy getting information visually. [See full review, this web, under "Other Books."]
Congress knee-jerked the U.S. into the Tough on Crime era, Pres. Clinton signed a law prohibiting inmates from access to essential Pell grants for education. Only 1/10th of 1% of all Pell grants went to inmates, and no non-imprisoned student was ever denied a grant because of reduced funding. But the law did go into effect and has stayed law all these years. Sen. Cory Booker and his thinking colleagues may undo that self-defeating policy.
Enter federal inmates Christopher Zoukis' remarkable Education Behind Bars (Sunbury Press, 2012). This thick book brims with information that inmates need to begin and further their education. It offers compendiums of schools, addresses, and much-needed information. (Full book reviewed here, on blog page for Book Reviews).
Let's hope we return to sanity. As Mr. Zoukis points out, educating inmates is a win-win: society, prison families, prison officials, colleges, and the inmates themselves.