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.
Flying in the face on the Prison Industrial Complex is a series of state moves that may help get our citizens home, with help. There are ways to stem the flow into prisons--alternative sentencing and regional programs for addiction-- and shorter sentencing once the defendant has been found guilty. Then inside, educational programs can help get these people on their feet with self-knowledge. "Counties can also implement reentry, mental health, and education programs in conjunction with shorter sentences. These programs lower recidivism by allowing those who are incarcerated to access treatment and gain the skills they need to become contributing members of society. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy found a number of programs that demonstrated success under a cost-benefit analysis."
The Prison Litigation Reform Act strikes again: Lester Alford wrote again and again about disgusting prison conditions, and finally a court slapped him down, saying that although he had indeed written all the Step 1 and 2 and filings correctly, he missed one--appealing beyond the steps to the top prison administrators. That step is not in the PLRA. Must be in the small print in the New Jersey system? It's a travesty that a judge would dismiss a legitimate, credible complaint that had made its way so far--and on this sort of nonsense. Shame on the judge, the entire New Jersey system.
An outbreak of TB in the Alabama prison system should have all of us afraid. These guys are infectious. And they do get released. Currently the System is not accepting new inmates there, but where will the 9 inmates go who have this disease? And how did all of them get it? We should all be concerned!
Long-time inmate Dale Maisano is tired of bad food, and has filed 5800 lawsuits to bring attention to the inferior food provided in prisons across the county. Corizon, the prison-food provider, thinks maybe Maisano shouldn't be noticed. Should he?