Posts Tagged ‘rehabilitation’

Upselling Prison #4

Friday, July 14th, 2017

A former inmate sizes up detention products, #4 in a casual series.

Accessories, upgrades, add-ons, telecoms, toilets, and the first responders of the detention supply industry.

It’s a dubious distinction, I know, but I’ve been among the first 75 inmates to populate a brand new prison. The place hadn’t even been “officially” opened and it wasn’t entirely complete; it took months for the technological marvel it was said to be to actually function as designed. But while Where Excuses Go to Die (the book) can tell you a lot more about that story, today we return to those particular design elements and specialized detention products that represent modern mass incarceration in America. Unlike previous editions, this time we’ll look at just one pressing problem: inmates who stop up cell house toilets and the wastewater control systems that swallow every dinner, document, dictionary, and domino thrown at ’em.
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Life in a Prison Classroom

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Pre-Release Classrooms are the Future of Prison Reform_Where Excuses Go to DieI know life in a prison classroom, and the learning environment you may or may not find once you’ve taken a seat.

A brief click-through of “5 Projects to Watch in 2016” from Correctional News leaves me wondering how much prison officials really know about the obstacles inmates face just getting through a detention facility’s classroom door. What does it matter, you ask? Well, in an era where words like “reform,” “rehabilitation,” and “recidivism” are on everyone’s lips, it’s important to know when a component as critical as education is simply being given lip service.

Correctional News covers prison operations, design, and construction. It celebrates grand openings and groundbreakings because imminent completion dates tend to matter to rubber mattress merchants, vendors of detection products, and shower flooring suppliers.

Currently showcased are the East County Detention Center near Palm Springs, for example, which is set to open in 2017, the Kern County justice facility in Bakersfield, and the new Utah State Prison, among others. California being where I paid my debt to society, I tend to monitor its prison system more closely than I do others. But all of these entries have something in common, and that’s my point: they feature anemic descriptions of the education facilities also under construction. Rehabilitation-as-footnote here, will eventually make corrections administrators and state officials look as though they’re simply hanging wreaths of rehabilitation on freshly painted classroom doors and leaving it at that. (more…)

Prisoner Re-Entry Schools

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Photo by Nick VedrosThe time is right for Prisoner Re-Entry Schools.

Offenders must be redirected, not simply recycled, ideally through public-private partnerships. People who have earned a second chance need places to go where stock phrases like “new beginnings” aren’t made into nonsense through endless repetition.

In Boston, Massachusetts, inmates will soon have the option of applying for enrollment in a new prisoner re-entry school inside the 45-year old Boston Pre-Release Center. In addition to a long list of programs that began in 1972, the new Re-entry School will help connect parolees with individual and community leaders confirmed to support them and, ultimately, to help reduce recidivism and crime. (more…)

Capitalizing on Inmate Firefighters

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

Image_washingtonpostThere’s no excuse for inmate firefighters becoming pawns of prison reform.

Inmate firefighters: it’s an odd term, isn’t it? “Firefighter” is a badge of honor, while “inmate” is a brand. Yet these particular convicted criminals are routinely sent on 16-mile marches to square off with raging wildfires for 24 hours at a time, carrying the mark of offenders while performing duties as honorable as they come. For about $2 an hour.

These men (and women) are typically housed in a more congenial, campus-like setting. They eat better than their counterparts who are still behind prison walls, and they’re addressed more cordially by both frontline custody personnel and the civilian training staffers who oversee their participation in California’s esteemed Conservation Camp program.

Most of these folks were convicted of non-violent crimes. But violent offenders have also swung picks and wielded shovels for the California Department of Forest and Fire Protection (CalFire) for decades, and a proposal to expand their participation was recently submitted by California corrections officials. Good thing it was withdrawn almost as soon as it was made public, as the plan could have been a disaster.

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Upselling Prison Pt. 3

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

JPAY_Appropriating Copyrights_Where Excuses Go to DieA former inmate sizes up detention products, #3 in a casual series.

Upselling Prison: accessories, upgrades, add-ons, telecoms, and salespersons of the detention supply industry.

Prison Monetization Solutions_Where Excuses Go to DieAccording to the Pew Public Safety Performance Project and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 in 35 adult residents of the US are currently either incarcerated or under correctional supervision (parole or probation). In 1990, that number was 1 in 77. Nationally, America spends billions on corrections, and the money being made by detention profiteers is astronomical. One particularly golden calf has been inmate telecommunications, especially now that the corrections industry is undergoing a “technological renaissance.”
(Prison Voice Biometrics anyone?)

This is a Rehabilitation Measurement Device_Where Excuses Go to DieMuch has been written about the contempt the prison telecom industry routinely demonstrates for families of the incarcerated by charging crushingly inflated rates for collect calls home. Still, in California, for example, the Public Utilities Commission lacks oversight of jail and prison phone contracts and nationwide the FCC is only now taking notice of high rates charged for calls originating in state and federal facilities. According to Prison Phone Justice.org, inmate phone contracts in all but 9 states are still based on a “commission” model where the service provider pays a portion of its profits to the contracting facility as a kickback for accepting their bid (this chart shows some of the worst offenders). I don’t even want to think about private and corporate-owned detention centers, where the profits extracted from those in need of human contact is obscene. (more…)

Upselling Prison Pt. 2

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Upselling Prison Part 2_Where Excuses Go to DieA former inmate sizes up detention products, #2 in a casual series.

Upselling Prison:  accessories, upgrades, add-ons, and salespersons of the detention supply industry.

Norix Inc. claims it doesn’t just make prison mattresses: it makes “Comfort Shield® Remedy Mattresses.” And if cost equalled quality, Comfort Shields would clearly be a cut above. But ask anyone on the inside, and a prison mattress is a prison mattress is a prison mattress. They’re subject to the worst an infected wound has to offer; and they get clutched, twisted, and chewed on like nobody’s business. For something that has more prayers Prison inmates wouldn't have looked at Jesus' mattress twice_Where Excuses Go to Diewhispered into it than Israel’s Western Wall and all of Islam’s worry beads, nothing has less to show for it than a prison mattress.

It’s kind of tough to wrap your head around trading a pair of shoes (or several meals) to obtain a less “raped” one, but it’s what you do. Otherwise, as we once heard an intake sergeant say to a complainer, “it’s mind over mattress.”

Fortunately, distinguishing bloodstains from even less pleasant discolorations gets easier after, say, month three. But the marks inmates leave behind aren’t limited to bodily fluids or semi-solids: prisoners love writing gang names, anti-Semitic messages, zip codes, and their sweetheart’s initials on the very bedding into which your tears will be absorbed.

Naturally, these handwritten hieroglyphics can be more indelibly printed onto older cotton mattress covers than the newfangled, vinyl laminate “wipe ‘n cleans,” so these days one needs to make sure his ink has dried before drifting off to dreamland. While most ink dries quickly, sweat can often reactivate it, and entering a chow hall wearing gang signs on your face that are only decipherable by the fellas planning a hit on “those fools” after breakfast is really something to avoid. And trust me, you’ll want to take the time to check for swastikas drawn in magic marker by the guy before you. The rule is: read your mattress first and watch where you put your face.

For the record, endlessly violated (and absorbent) cotton mattress covers are actually preferable to the newer sealed plastic pads – unless you enjoy marinating in your own sweat at 3:30 in the morning. Besides, wipe ‘n cleans get weird blisters that make you wonder how your body heat could have caused mystery chemicals to churn and gurgle beneath the vinyl.

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Crass Incarceration

Friday, November 7th, 2014

Eligibility for a second chance begins with being taken seriously.

Crass
• adjective: lacking in discrimination and sensibility, blundering, asinine

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?__Where Excuses Go to DieOkay, here it is: the mentally ill in California prisons are far more likely to be subjected to harsher treatment and longer sentencing than other inmates. That’s a criminal lack of discrimination and sensibility. Of all the inmates who occupy facilities up and down the state, roughly 30% are mentally ill, making the California Department of Corrections a de facto mental health treatment provider. Now there’s your blundering and asinine.

According to the Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project, “The average sentence imposed on defendants suffering from mental illness is longer than the average sentence imposed on defendants who do not have mental health diagnosis but who committed the same crime.”

Shane Bauer of Mother Jones claims there are ten times more mentally ill people behind bars than in state hospitals, and many of those inmates have severe illnesses like schizophrenia. Furthermore, solitary confinement can make it harder or even impossible for the untreated mentally ill to re-enter society. Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for the ACLU National Prison Project says “it’s a risk that can’t be condoned. They come out such ruined human beings. It has essentially harmed them in such a substantial way they can’t ever return to the community or society.”

The Coldest Iron_Where Excuses Go to DieThe passage of California’s Prop 47 was important to me personally because of the smiley Nicaraguan we called “Hey,” to whom my book, Where Excuses Go to Die, is dedicated. Hey’s chapter is one I read a lot at book signings and other events, because even without shocking statistics it powerfully demonstrates how narrowly the public has been trained to recognize what prison and prisoners look like. Where Excuses Go to Die exists to defy that recognition. (more…)

Prison Visitor Hardball

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

As if California’s prison visitors didn’t have it demanding enough.

Process in and process out is what seeing daddy is all aboutIt goes without saying that, for family members, prison visits are psychologically and emotionally demanding. Just keeping up with background check requirements, approved visiting days, bureaucratic obstacles, and the distinct operational eccentricities of the facilities in which your loved one may be housed is an education in itself – a part-time job. And none of it applies to the wild-card of lockdowns or the myriad other things that can affect visitations, like visits being cut short due to overcrowding.

The experience itself is more akin to driving for four hours only to stand in line to deal with a speeding ticket for which you’d previously failed to appear. You get a strong sense that you’re only being grudgingly tolerated by authorities, who’ve lumped you in with the rest, with “those people.” And in fact you are literally penned in with other visitors awaiting approval and entry.

Such areas are always some variation of “Visitor Intake” or “Processing,” and they’re never short on militaristic signage and ALL CAPS ANXIOUSNESS. Depending on the facility and its administrator’s interpretation of departmental policy, waiting areas may be lined with hard wooden benches (the kind you could easily be handcuffed to), tattered airport seating, or flimsy plastic stackables. (more…)

New Prison Reality

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

WELCOME_TO COMCAST_NBC_UNIVERSAL_PRISONHeart and humanity must now evolve into the new prison reality….

Just yesterday, a stranger told me he’d heard the words “prison rehabilitation” more times in the last two months than ever before in his life. My first reaction was that sentiments like his will only become more common as Americans adapt to new representations of incarceration and the incarcerated, and as the dialogue on prison reform becomes an increasingly pressing topic in Washington, at the state level, and in so many of our social and cultural realms.

At the same time, the implication that criminal offenders are (usually) people too causes friction as it rubs up against the manner in which we’ve been trained to recognize prison — narrowly, dismissively, and neglectfully.

I began this blog in 2010, when Where Excuses Go to Die was still a manuscript. I intended to blog about excuses made daily by celebrities, politicians, and whoever else was unlucky enough to publicly display poor coping skills. I’ve had a lot of fun with the sarcasm, not to mention with challenging people’s comfort zones and entitlements. (more…)

LA County Sheriff’s “CRRC”

Monday, May 26th, 2014

And it begins – the rehabilitation of the LA Sheriff’s Department…

LA County Sheriffs Department calls for a Do-overInterim LA County Sheriff John Scott’s news conference last week announced the opening of the Sheriff’s Department’s Community Reentry and Resource Center (CRRC). It’s a new component of the department’s  Education Based Incarceration/Merit Program. 

As he has several times before, Scott stood in contrast to the Department’s typically defensive posture, indifference toward matters of prisoner reentry, and former Sheriff Lee Baca’s endless insistence that only more money can resolve overcrowding and the problems faced in running the nation’s largest jail.

In terms of my love-hate relationship with the LASD, some of these men are cops this former criminal happens to be rooting for. I’ll set aside my cynicism and suspicions to appreciate Scott’s effort to repair the damages wrought by corrupt, Nazi-gang-affiliated, vengeful Department brass (and –as described by insiders– its cult-like following).

SO LONG LA Sheriffs Spokesman Steve WhitmoreIt’s no small thing that this first high profile attempt to reverse the Men’s Central Jail’s inhumane and festering image addresses the causes of recidivism rather than demonstrating a tougher resolve or blaming budget woes. Scott is clearly borrowing a page from the national dialog on prison reform, and yes, it’s a little Simpsons-esque to watch this particular department pitch their newfound forbearance to the public. But folks, this is how it’s gonna be for a while. Luckily, I’ve spoken with several respected officers in the department who have an impressive sense of humor about their profession and their beleaguered employer.

And what is the LA County Sheriff’s Community Reentry and Resource Center?

Through the CRRC, return-to-the-community services such as drug and alcohol treatment, job placement assistance, temporary shelter, tattoo removal, family reintegration, and mental health counseling will be made available to anyone emerging from the building that’s been making headlines as “one of the worst jails in America.” Its offices have been set up right across the street from the ‘ol dungeon itself (the one the county might either expand, tear down or, if there is a God, turn into a mall).

So what’s it like to walk out of Men’s Central Jail, anyway?

This might be difficult to imagine if you’ve never experienced it, so I’ll start by describing release from MCJ this way: it’s like being kicked out of your own failure, especially if you don’t have someone ready and waiting to get you out of the area. (more…)