Friday, November 23, 2007

Prisons and the Need for Prison Reform

To better represent statistics available through the PEW Charitable Trusts or government organizations such as the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Justice Statistics, I use Many-Eyes. Many-Eyes is a powerful visualization tool for all on the Internet. Prison data is under my topic hub called, Prisons and Prison Reform.

A few significant facts among the charts and graphs:
  • From 2000 to 2005, felony arrests in California increased 17%.
  • More than half the California prison institutions/camps are occupied at over 200% of the capacity for which they were designed, and all are over 100%.
  • In French Guiana, prison occupancy is at 469% of prisons' designed capacities.
  • Prison incarceration rate in the state of Louisianna is 835 per 100,000 population. It's the highest in the U.S. and higher than any country in the world.
And here is a U.S. map showing States' ratios of blacks (%) in prison to blacks (%) by population.

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KM said...

Greetings to you from TEA, a newly formed grass roots movement that is dedicated to Prison Reform. We started with a few members on the Prison Talk On-line forum, and have grown to represent over 25 States and 6 Countries (so far!). Our birth came after the newly released Pew Report stated that, “1 in more than 100 American adults are currently incarcerated”. For many of us, that was it. We decided that enough was enough. We are now “brewing up” a campaign to launch ourselves into the Judicial and Prison Reform Movement.

We are initiating a mass mail event that will begin on June 30th and culminate on the 4th of July (in keeping with a Freedom From Tyranny theme). It is our intent to send letters to every single legislator, in every single State including the Nations Capitol. Most of us will be enclosing a TEA bag, to symbolize that it is time for a new Boston-Style Tea Party – a 21st Century Tea Party!

We believe that when the Legislators realize that a large amount of people are uniting on the issue of Prison and Justice Reform in this country, they will be forced to act on implementing the improvements that America is in dire need of, in regards to our Prison Systems.

We have drafted a few different letters (single and double page) that people may use to mail in if they so desire. But we’re not picky! Anyone is free to write whatever they want as long as it somehow relates to the need for reformation in our prisons. As mentioned, most of us are choosing to send in a TEA bag with our letters (which is perfectly legal – so far) along with the TEA bag logo we have designed. A few have hesitated to go to that extreme, and will instead be using only the TEA logo on their letterhead. Again, we leave it to the individual to make the statement however they are most comfortable with. We also plan to fax and email our letters, for maximum exposure. BUT PLEASE REMEMBER – The letter campaign does not kick-off until the week of June 30th.

As the family and friends of inmates that are initiating this campaign, we are also informing our loved ones that are behind bars what we have planned. There has been an extremely positive response from those behind walls. Word of mouth is spreading this like wild fire, and the inmates themselves plan to also write to the legislators. If you have a “safe” way of doing so, and know of any imates that may be interested, please inform them of this movement so they can spread the word between themselves (and other inmates will be able to pass this info on to their family and friends on the outside). Also, since the inmates cannot send an actual TEA bag, they can draw a TEA bag symbol on their letters. If even 5% of those incarcerated send ONE letter each, that alone would be over 100,000 letters. But we don’t believe they will be sending “just one”!

We would like to see your forum joined with us in this event. The letters we are planning to send can be tailored to be more “State specific” needs if you should wish to addresses certain issues that you feel strongly about or are involved with.

The time is ripe. America cannot continue to call itself the Leader of the Free World when we hold the prize for locking up the most citizens IN THE WORLD.

We hope that this event will open the doors that have been slammed shut on prison reform, and slam shut the revolving door our prisons have become.

Should you wish to do so, please post a link on your forum to our site. If ALL of us in this Country unite together for specific events such as this...we will move mountains.

Tea’s On!

Cheri said...

I am delighted to have found your site. Like many my interest in prison reform came from a loved one who was incarcerated, then also Ted Koppel's special on CA prisons. Prison reform does not get the national attention it should; it's a huge problem, not just financially but in wasted human lives. It is said a society can be judged on how it treats its children, elderly, sick, and prisoners. In CA the recidivism rate is 73%; less than 10% of those in CA prison receive substance abuse counseling, continued education, and vocational training. This is not acceptable.
I have a radical solution. Bear with me on this. One of the promising avenues in education is charter schools. Communities of parents and educators decide the curriculum and run the school, albeit with state support. Next point is my experience during the recent Southern Californian fires. I was evacuated and spent some days in an evacuation center. The outpouring of volunteer goods and services was astounding, and immediate. Putting these ideas and experiences together, here is my idea: charter prisons. Give us back our prisoners and let us help them. Ok, keep the serial killers and rapists in high security, but my guess is that there is a high percentage of those who can benefit enormously from the combined efforts and resources of many in their local communities who can help them with education, counseling, training and jobs. Just as with public education, layers evolve over decades of self interested bureaucrats and administrators at the direct expense of students and creative approaches. Ditto the prison system. Anyway, that is my spiel. I am hoping to hear from others who may be similiarly interested in this approach. Needless to say, I am aware of the simplifications and the seeemingly insurmountable obstacles to such an idea...but hey, we have to do something and think big! By the way, I am a minister and am remembering what one prisoner on Ted Koppel's show said: "We are more than one mistake."

Anonymous said...

I found your posting as I was trying to find some hope or help trying to make sense of a decision that was so unjust. I have a loved one that is incarcerated. He's used his time to better himself by education and programming. All this was recgonized when going in front of the Ohio Parole Board. he was given outstanding Programming credit, which is rarely given. Since 2003 he has meet with the parole board 3 times. Each flop was smaller. His last time up they gave him 17 months to get to his minimum of 15 years. His papers stated "remaining time to be served" with outstanding programming credit. In those 17 months he was in absoutely no trouble. He met with the parole board again in November of 2007. We were all 99.9% sure he was coming home. His parents met with a parole board member who told his seventy year old parents that your son will be home by spring. His decision came last week, they gave him superior marks for programming, great institutional record but a 24 month flop. Which was more then the last one they gave him. We are all numb. Of course he is filing a reconsideration but to the same people who gave him the flop. I guess my question is? When is enough? It's not the parole boards place to resentence a man but to determine weather or not he is fit to re-entry society. The man I love has earned that right and he had it stripped away from him yet again. Yes, he commited a crime that he deserved to do time for but he has served his time and done everything in his power to try to redeem himself. He has earned his right to come home.

Anonymous said...

Many men who are convicted of rape in this country are innocent, so I don't agree with "fine, keep the rapists." But this new movement is a great idea. America has become the least free country in the west and we need to make some noise about it.

I Was I Am said...

Many people hold on to the expectation of prisoners being restored by some special class, some program, some psych doctor, or group therapy. A professional was to brief through an inmates file and decide what was necessary in order for the offender to be "changed or corrected."

I myself was labeled as a habitual offender with an arrest record dating back to 1988, and was given "the" intervention plan. None. How was I to be committed to prison for 1 1/2 to 7 years, expecting to be rehabilitated without a design for treatment. With Delaware prison systems managing about 8,000 inmates in 12 prisons and facilities, Community Corrections supervising about 17,000 probationers and 535 parolees and a budget of about $200 million dollars a year, you have to ask yourself if what they are doing is working. Better yet, what are they doing? The crime rate in Delaware is 8% above the national average and violent crimes are about 32% higher than other state. The rate of adults under correctional supervision, including prisons, jails, probation, and parole is about 40% higher than the national rate. I believe these statistics are the catalyst for a different approach.

I've asked quite a few about their perspective of criminals, their behavior and the idea of prison as punishment and reform, and what many fail to realize is that the overcrowding prison system itself serves as fuel to the cycle it is created to cease. It is merely a holding place with little hope of being effective standing alone. The life typically hardens inmates who often leave worse than they were when they were first committed. The prison population forces long waiting lists and inapt programs with a quick fix approach to deep rooted problems. There is little focus on core criminal behavior which resides in the criminal mind, no focus on real life skills or the tools to cope with life after confinement. "Three hots and a cot" is the term for prison which suggests a lax environment, a place to sleep and three hot meals a day. Although confined, prisoners have little responsibility, they don't wash their own clothes, cook their own meals and they take directions on what to do and when to do it. , it is easier to live inside four prison walls than out in the community as a responsible citizen. It is training ground for dependence upon the system, while inside and upon release, that is why so many return. A prisoner released is no different at the end of the sentence without effective solutions during incarceration, pre-release, and post release.

What is needed is a comprehensive approach with more effective methods. The focus should be to put the $200 million where it counts, habilitating the offender. If rehabilitation means to restore formally to former capacity, standing, rank, rights or privileges, than habilitaion is what is needed. Most offenders have never lived a life desired to be restored. Habilitate-to equip, impart an ability, to qualify or entitle. They need vocational training, with job placement. They need employers to forgive them after their time has been served. I'm not sure that "Inmate at Cambridge Springs Correctional Institution" would impress an HR recruiter for any of the "Best Places To Work In America." In other words, they need to be empowered.