Advocates say that Congress has all agreed on wanting to scale back on the high mass incarceration rates. Both Republicans and Democrats are coming together for the greater good. Congress is handling the matter one reform at a time, and all new developments are underway. All previous bills and laws that were passed before Obama’s administration are being taken into account and are still being used. A recent bill that is projected to result in the number of inmates being housed in federal prisons to decrease is omnibus spending bill. The FY2014 omnibus spending bill includes a federal prison reform panel that will have discretion on which aspects of the system they would like to focus on. In particular, non-violent offenders make up more than 90 percent of the federal prison population, fairer sentences are being figured out, because it costs more than $30,000 to house an inmate for a crime that could have been taken care of with various treatment programs. There is hope for the future of prison reform, it just takes positive steps and help from everyone.
Three inmates at the Angola Louisiana State Penitentiary in Louisiana are suing the state’s department of public safety and corrections for the prison officials rejecting requests of relief for those suffering in death row cells that trap heat reaching as high as 195 degrees Fahrenheit. These cells have little to no ventilation, where inmates spend more than 23 hours a day inside, sometimes sleeping on the floor where its somewhat cooler, but have to endure fire ant bites in the process. Various organizations have begun investigations into the matter and have found the conditions horrifying, and a fundamental violation of Constitutional protections. The lack of climate control places the inmates in a dangerous situation, and the ability to maintain in good standing health very limited; such circumstances can often result in the death of an inmate(s). The lawsuit is asking that the temperature be controlled so that the heat index doesn’t exceed 88 degrees and that ice water is distributed to the inmates on a regular basis. After 6 months of deliberation, Judge Brian A. Jackson ruled that the high heat levels were in violation of the inmate’s 8th amendment rights, which were housed in the death row cells.
US federal prisons are overcrowded and are housing more than 40% of inmates than they were designed to hold. The number of inmates held in federal custody has increased by 500% and continuously increasing. The majority of inmates are serving sentences for drug-related offenses. Attorney General Eric Holder has proposed his ideas on how the criminal justice system should change and would reduce the number of sentences served because of a non-violent crime committed. Holder devised a plan that would free up prisons and limit the number of non-violent offenders in jail. Rather, prosecution will avoid using the “mandatory minimum” as a form of punishment, but direct offenders to drug treatment and community service programs. Attorney Holder gave a speech back in August speaking on his views of the vicious cycle of the criminal justice system that is weakening communities. He believes that the criminal justice system is doing nothing in its power to alleviate the problem. Read More.
Posted in Civil Rights, Corrections, Court decisions, Federal Corrections, Federal Courts, Non-Violent Offenders, Uncategorized
Tagged Attorney General Holder, federal prisons, Non-violent crimes, Prison News, reduce inmates
Senator Rob Portsman of Ohio has been significantly making strides with reforms in the US prison system. Prison overpopulation has been a topic of constant debate since the 1980s when the amount of inmates has grown tenfold. Senator Portsman acknowledges a failure in the criminal justice system that is challenging, but he is hopeful that reform(s) will be the solution for the problem. A repeated theme of prisoners being released back into society and are back behind bars in less than a year. It has been argued that the ever-growing prison population is a budget problem, but it is a social problem that involves not only the offender but families that are broken up. Senator Portsman authored The Second Chance Act to the senate, which was approved and helps to establish and support reentry programs for newly released inmates. The next step is to bring the same programs to the federal prison system. By cosponsoring The bipartisan Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act with the help of other US senator’s federal corrections now can offer the same programs to inmates. Also, the act provides drug and mental health treatment and job training programs for individuals who seek to change their lives for the better. Incentives are offered too. Read More Here.
As an assignment for a thesis project, Glen Santayana, a student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, designed a prison/school hybrid that can be a possible solution needed for lowering recidivism rates. Santayana’s thesis stems off of the “war on drugs” that took place during the 1970’s but still plays a significant role in the increase of inmates throughout the United States prison system. It was designed precisely for the non-violent offender that struggles with repeat offending. The design of PriSchool takes a look at the current US prison system from a completely different perspective, which may come off as a radical idea. PriSchool is a prison that is integrated with a school of criminology and is set in a community environment. The complex is split into four buildings, a “pre-release” building, a community center, the school of criminology, and the prison itself. The buildings are linked together by bridges that show how each intertwine based off of the specific functions. The classroom technique allows prisoners and students to take classes together, which can be empowering and hands on. The “pre-release” building allows prisoners nearing the end of their sentence to gain access to new and employable skills. Also, the community center will serve as a liaison for curious and skeptical members of the community, and a “safe haven” for individuals to deter from potential crimes. Read More Here.
Terry Davis, owner of Keystone Correctional Services, says he doesn’t believe he should be held responsible for parolees after they leave his facility. Jeff Lautenberger for The Wall Street Journal
A recent study found that six out of ten Pennsylvania inmates who where paroled where arrested again within three years. Paroled inmates who where released to the streets where incarcerated less frequently then those who where paroled to halfway houses. To combat the problem, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections rearranged pre-existing contracts it had with private halfway houses, mental health and drug programs to include monetary incentives for lowered recidivism rates. The new contracts would pay more money to programs that help bring down the recidivism rate. If a program’s recidivism rate goes up, the contracts could be terminated. The new pay for performance incentives are ground breaking. A 2011 survey asked 35 state departments of corrections if they offered performance incentives to private contractors. Only 3 states replied that they did. The new contracts are not free of controversy, with some private facility owners feeling like they are responsible for paroled inmates after they graduate from their programs. Read more here.
Photo Courtsey of The Palm Beach Post
In a tough economy, cities in Palm Beach County, Florida are employing a controversial method to keep their cities clean while also cutting costs. Cities within the county are employing inmates, under the supervision of the Florida Department of Corrections, to clean up city parks, mow cemetery lawns, and pick up trash along roads and waterways. The inmates are not being paid for their work. The employment of the inmates has cause controversy in the county with taxpayers and tax research companies agreeing with the employment of inmates saying it saves the county money. According to Florida Department of Corrections data inmates provided the county with 5.8 millions hours of labor that saved the taxpayers more than $46 million dollars in 2011-2012. Prisoner’s rights advocate disagree, possessing a dissenting point of view calling the employment of inmates “exploitation”. Read more here.
In a fledgling economy, bureaucracies are desperate to cut costs. Cowlitz County in Washington state is going as far as to forgive approximately $1 million dollars in former inmate commissary debt. The Cowlitz County jail has switched to new automated system that tracks visiting, commissary and messaging transactions. In switching to the new automated system, all of the old inmate debt would have to be reentered. To avoid the pain staking task of tracking down old inmates,collecting fees, and entering them into the automated system the county is considering hiring a collection agency or just forgiving the debt all together. The debate between the two choices has caused controversy in the community, but the administration at the jail insists that forgiving the old debt will encourage inmates and their families to put money in the new automated system. Read more here.
Photo Courtsey of Angel Franco of the New York Times
In Louisiana, Angola, the unofficial name for the Louisiana State Penitentiary, strikes fear into the hearts of defendants. Known for it’s violent assaults and for it’s use of solitary confinement, Angola has become known as one of the most notorious prisons in the United States. When Burt Cain became warden in 1995 he decided to change Angola’s violent reputation. One of the tools Cain used to induce a culture shift was to allow the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to establish a campus on Angola grounds. The seminary offers Bachelors degrees, Associates degrees, and numerous other certificates and enables inmates to become ministers and counselors to their peers. The introduction of the seminary to the prison may have helped deteriorate the occasions of violence seen at Angola in recent decades, 280 assaults on staff by inmates and 1,107 assaults on inmates by inmates where reported in 1990 and in 2012 55 assaults on staff and 315 assaults on inmates where reported. Read more here.
Photo Courtesy of Sodahead.com
Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is a very controversial topic amongst civil right’s activists. A recent report released by the American Civil Liberties Union may bring new light to the issue. The report highlights 100 prisoners that are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for non-violent offenses and states that as many as 3,278 prisoners nationwide are serving similar sentences. It is the belief of the reports author, Jennifer Turner, that the life without parole sentences stem from the “tough on crime laws” from the 1980′s and 1990′s. Read more here