If you were governor of a state that was under federal orders to reduce prison overcrowding, what would you do? California's Jerry Brown has decided to change the definition of overcrowding. Yep. "The state said its 33 prisons on average are at 149.4% of design capacity. Nearly half of the individual prisons are much higher than that: 172% at North Kern State Prison, 187% at the Central California Women’s Facility, and the men’s section of Valley State Prison in Chowchilla is now at almost 352%." Gov. Brown thinks that the state "has improved living conditions within its prisons to the point it no longer needs to meet court-ordered caps on prison crowding."
It's taken a major budget crisis and numerous examples of million-dollar cases, but the Texas Legislature is actually looking at the stringent procedures that keep terminally ill patients within the cells. Head of the parole system, Rissie Owens, is frequently quoted as saying these prisoners are known to have miraculous recoveries and commit new crimes; perhaps the legislature can investigate how many do actually pick up their pallets and walk into crime.
Should inmates work while they're in prison? Some critics of work programs see them as modern slave factories, where an inmate earns, perhaps, $0.81/hr. In California, one program that teamed with trades unions taught the inmates a skill, and helped them get employed upon release. But the State has run out of money, so the program is being discontinued. The recidivism rate for inmates who succeed in the program is astonishing low; perhaps critics should re-think their position and urge the states to offer them everywhere.
Washington state has opened new programs to help those in isolation units earn their way out.
"At Clallam Bay, the path out of isolation runs through the color-coded tiers of the Intensive Transition Program (ITP), housed since 2006 in a unit originally built for juveniles.
About 30 inmates, all volunteers, agree to a nine-month program stocked with coursework such as "moral recognition therapy" and "self-repair," gradually earning more freedoms." Some are former gang members; some are mentally ill.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt decided that Indiana's treatment of mentally ill inmates is not constitutional. The issue, again: isolation units. When human beings are separated from all interaction with other humans, they develop symptoms of insanity. When inmates were already having mental troubles, the isolation confounds the problem. And then the inmates are released into society. The judge stopped short of requiring specific cures to the problem but will be monitoring the system.
Policy varies from state to state, from Warden to Warden. Despite the First Amendment, Public Information Officers of prisons can ban the public from knowing what is happening inside prisons, and that can't be all good now, can it? Jessica Pupovac, investigating prison journalists' access to prisons for her master's thesis, uncovered a wild array of policies and yet, and yet taxpayers spend approximately $74 BILLION on state and federal prison systems annually. Yet the public can't know how the dollars are spent?
The FCC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making. OK.... they are taking comments. But still, this is a huge step from a huge agency that can stop the gouging of inmates and their families.
Criminal justice is always at the mercy of legislative budgets. It is also always noticed/ignored/acted on by the legislative body if the committee chair is active and interested. Thus Texas' new dilemma: who will chair the committee now that Rep. Pete Gallego is in D.C? Gallego's constituents always came first (not his party affiliations, not special interest groups). So he will be hard to replace, and the current list of possibles does not hold any bright stars. Who cares about criminal justice? One of the representatives needs to stand up and shout an interest, and all the interested parties need time to review the shouter. Soon.