Archive for the ‘Prisons and Jails’ Category
It’s often been said that the jails and prisons in the U.S. operate on a revolving door system, with many of the same prisoners returning to incarceration time after time after time. Sadly, that’s a mostly true statement.
With nearly 2.5 million people crammed into U.S. prison and jail facilities, or on probation or parole (that equals to approximately 1 out of every 32 people in the U.S.), America can proudly boast (note the sarcasm) that we hold 25% of the world’s prison population. That’s a pretty staggering number considering the U.S. holds only 5% of the world’s population. Those numbers don’t mean much, you say? Well, let’s approach from another angle…our wallets. Each year the U.S. spends between 74 and 80 billion dollars on incarceration. That’s BILLION dollars.
Sure, most citizens don’t want to be bothered with felons and other law-breakers. You know, out of sight/out of mind. But it’s not quite that simple. You see, Isaac Newton had the right idea when he mused “What goes up must come down.” Because the same applies to prisons, jails, and inmates—what goes in must come out. That’s right, the majority of people sentenced to jail or prison must be released at some point. And those former prisoners are generally released back into their former communities. So, what happens to them when they do finally make it back to their old neighborhoods? That’s a question most people don’t consider because the ex-con’s troubles don’t pertain to “most people.” Unfortunately, the former prisoner’s troubles affect everyone. Remember the 80 billion dollars it costs to incarcerate those millions of prisoners? Well, U.S. taxpayers are responsible for paying that whopping bill.
Doesn’t it makes sense that we should try to address the problem instead of throwing good money on top of bad? Obviously, incarceration isn’t the answer because many offenders just keep coming back after they’ve “paid” their debt to society.
Let’s address recidivism and why I think it occurs so often. First of all, I have many years of experience working in both corrections and in law enforcement, which means I’ve seen the system in action, from all sides. I’ve also owned a business where I employed a few former inmates, men who’d received prison sentences resulting from my investigations. Ironic, huh? I honestly believe in second chances.
What do former prisoners face upon their release? (these may vary depending on location)
1. They must check in with a probation or parole officer.
2. They must have an established residence.
3. Drug and sex offenders must register with the local police, advising officials where they’ll be residing and working.
4. They must maintain employment (in some areas this is a discretionary requirement imposed by the court).
5. They’re required to complete a monthly report detailing their earnings, address changes, if any, employers name (probation officer will visit the job site and home), drug offenders must submit to urine testing, all must submit vehicle information, record of purchases (most probationers may not possess credit cards), and they’re encouraged to further their education.
The above sounds reasonable until you consider the vast majority of employers absolutely will not hire felons, and, in most instances, drug offenders are not eligible for student loans. In fact, many felons are legally banned from working in certain professions, such as:
- airport security screener
- armored car crew member
- bank teller
- child care provider
- delivery driver
- health care positions with direct patient contact
- public safety officer
- residential installers
- apartment or condo maintenance
Even when a felon finds a job he is subject to a list of restrictions, including (this is only a partial list, and it may vary from area to area):
- Agents /officers must be allowed to visit worksite and/or speak with a supervisor to discuss client’s performance, progress, and accountability
- Cannot work in a position that serves alcohol
- Cannot work with minors
- Cannot work with vulnerable adults
- Employment must be within or close to a supervision district so that agents may visit the worksite
- Not allowed to use or have contact with devices that host a computer modem (i.e. any device that can access the Internet)
- Cannot travel outside area or state (affects delivery drivers)
A few professions do hire convicted felons, but the list is short. And, this is still entirely up to the company. Some do not employ those who’ve been convicted of crimes.
Professions often available to convicted felons:
- Warehouse work
- Maintenance and janitorial positions
- Food service (no alcohol)
- Production and manufacturing
In addition, many convicted felons are banned from living in publicly assisted housing (section 8).
So, you see, without a job, or with the limited occupations to choose from, and without housing and educational opportunities, it’s darn tough for a former prisoner to make it on the outside.
To top it all off, the convicted felons never actually “pay their debts to society.” The stigma “convicted felon” hangs over their heads for life. This is especially true for those who were convicted of federal offenses. Some states allow convicted felons to vote in elections (others do not). Still, felons, even one-time first offenders convicted of minor, non-violent felonies lose their right to own firearms and other weapons, their right to vote, student loans, housing, etc. And these restrictions are for life.
Wouldn’t it make sense to give the non-violent offenders a second chance, by removing the “convicted felon” status after, say, 10 years of living a productive, crime-free life. At least then they’d have the opportunity to return to school, live in better neighborhoods (away from criminal activity), find a decent job that would help support their families and take better care of their children, who, by the way, also suffer by being forced to live in poor conditions.
Having a second chance and goals to work toward could be part of the solution to the “prison problem” in this country. Now, I’m not talking about hardcore, career criminals and repeat offenders. Nor am I including violent offenders. Most of those thugs need to remain behind bars for as long as we can keep them there. And I certainly don’t believe that every inmate would take advantage of the opportunity if presented to them. But there would be many who would work hard to achieve the goal and finally be able to put the mistake behind them for good.
If this helped keep just a small portion of the recidivists out of prison, the results could be huge. Families could remain together, children would grow up with two parents in the home, employers might find top-notch employees, the former inmates could become better educated and productive members of society, and taxpayers would save approximately $30,000 per year per inmate. Not to mention that instead of costing taxpayers, the non-recidivist would become a taxPAYER.
Anyway, that’s my two cents on the matter. What do you think? A second chance for some, or lock ‘em up and forget about them? Remember, though, most of those who go in must come out at some point.
Of course, there is the issue of private prisons that have contracts with the government…contracts that promise a minimum number of inmates will be sent their way. We must also remember that the private prisons are a big, money-making industry with stockholders.
And then there’s the food industry that makes a bundle off the prisons. And the construction companies, the jobs for officers, stock brokers medical staff, administration, the vehicle contracts, the weapons contracts, dog food (canines), condiment sales (I once sat next to a woman on a plane who was on her way to a huge nationwide prison food convention. She was in charge of condiment sales to prisons and jails—packets of mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise, along with napkins, and sporks—a multi-million-dollar industry).
Let’s not forget the prison phone systems, where a collect call can go for as high as $280 for just one hour of conversation—a kid’s birthday, mother’s sick, etc. A portion of that whopping bill goes back to the prison in exchange for a contract with the provider. Again, it is the family who shoulders this burden since inmates don’t earn anywhere near enough money to cover the expense, yet, officials encourage strong and regular family contact.
Anyway, you get the idea.
By the way, Corrections Corporations of America stock was up at the time of this post, at $36.27 per share. The “people business” is certainly booming when others are failing miserably…
Close your eyes and imagine you’re in the filthiest public restroom you’ve ever visited. Take a deep breath while conjuring up a stench that lingers in places only roaches and vermin dare to trod. Combine those odors with the scents of dirty sweat socks, sweat-soaked t-shirts, and unwashed underwear, warm popcorn, week-old urine, and steaming chicken-flavored Top Ramen noodles. And it gets worse…
Picture living or working where every breath is similar to what I’ve described above. Never a single lungful of fresh air. Could you drink water from a sink that was used to wash the feet of a man who just finished working on a roadside work gang for eight hours in ninety-degree heat—a sink positioned two feet above a toilet that’s used several times a day by three people, but is only capable of being flushed twice in eight hours?
How about sleeping in a six-by-nine room with two other large men who haven’t bathed in several days during the hottest time of the year. There’s no ventilation. No windows to open. How about sleeping on the floor with nothing between you and the grimy concrete surface but an itchy, unwashed wool blanket? Roaches, rats, and mice dart from gaps between rusted plumbing and cracked cinderblocks. Dried blood and vomit are the only splashes of color on drab walls. HGTV it ain’t.
What I’ve just described is jailing. Serving time. Marking the calendar. Doing time.
Of course, conditions are better in some facilities than others, but many are just like I’ve described in the paragraphs above. Some are worse. Much worse.
The photos below were taken in one of the cleanest jails I’ve ever seen. It’s also a very well-run operation. The staff is well-trained, and for the most part, the prisoners seemed to be in good spirits considering their circumstances.
A brief tour of a county jail:
Deputy sheriffs monitor and control inmate activities and movement from inside a master control room. All doors are operated electronically by the deputy seated at the control desk.
Jail control room
Some prison and jail dormitories house over one-hundred prisoners in a single room. Many times, a single officer is assigned to supervise the activities of one or more dorm rooms. When the officer/deputy steps inside the dormitory, they’re locked inside with the inmates. The odds are sometime 100 inmates to 1 officer.
Books are often donated by local community groups, families of inmates, and even the prisoners themselves.
Jail library. It’s quite possible that one or more of your books are on the shelves.
In the photograph below, a deputy sheriff makes his rounds inside a cell block. He’s actually inside a day room that’s normally occupied by several inmates. The area outside the windows to the left is a common area hallway beyond the locked cell/day room area. The doors to the deputy’s right are inmate cell doors. Each morning those doors are opened allowing all inmates into the day room where they play cards, watch TV, eat their meals, and socialize. They must remain in the day room all day, and return to their cells at night.
Prisoners are not permitted to lie in bed unless they are sick, which must be confirmed by a jail nurse or doctor.
A deputy sheriff makes his rounds, peering inside each cell as he passes by.
An inmate’s view through the window in his cell door out into the hallway (below). Many dreams and fantasies of life on the outside begin at this very spot. The door across the hall is that of another inmate’s cell. The checkered grate at the top of the picture is the only source of ventilation in the cell. It’s also a means for the jail staff to communicate with the prisoner. Jail doors are heavily insulated to retard fires and noise.
Looking out from inside a jail cell
Overcrowding is a huge problem in jails and prisons. This jail was forced to hang metal beds from the hallway walls when their cells reached capacity—three men in each two-man cell.
Just as I clicked off this shot, a group of deputies ran past to quell a disturbance in an area I’d just left. The problem—an inmate was having an anxiety attack, possibly caused by being confined to such tight quarters. He’d become quite violent and was tossing things around, including other inmates and an officer. His troubles reminded me of how much I appreciate the little things—trees, flowers, family, home-cooked meals, wine, and flushing my own darn toilet whenever I want and as many times as I want.
Steel bunk attached to hallway wall.
In some jails, prisoners are brought to these small rooms where they “visit” with family members seated on the opposite side of the window. The family’s room is a mirror image of the inmate’s visiting room.
Visitors speak to inmates via telephone.
* Remember, prison and jail are not the same. Normally, jails house offenders who’ve been convicted of misdemeanor crimes punishable by sentences of up to 12 months. Prisons are for people who’ve been convicted of felonies (sentences of one year or more). Of course, there are exceptions, but these are the rules of thumb.