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This diary will be the first in a series of reports on the modern prison system, based on my 17 year experience within a state prison system.

This is not really a very sexy issue. It is not of current interest in the way that impeachment, the firing of attorneys, or who the front runners are – but rather of ongoing interest, more of a background on Modern Corrections. In the ‘civilized’ US, the Greatest Superpower on Earth, our incarceration rate is about 500 per 100,000, or 0.5% of the population, which is actually a slowing of the trend over the past 5 or 6 years. Still, that is a lot of locked up people.

This series of diaries is not an apology for the prison system, but written from the point of view of prison staff, and how they deal with the inmates – and what it might be like to be an inmate.

So, how does it work? Take the jump.

Prisons and prisons systems are often blamed – sometimes rightly – for many ills, but at the end of the day, the jails and prisons have to take what the police and courts send them. In other words, prisons may seem a systemic problem of the Criminal Justice system, but in reality are only symptomatic. They are not like hotels, actively recruiting for new and repeat customers.

In the USA, incarceration is the treatment of choice for mentally ill and drug addicted citizens. This is counter intuitive, given that incarceration is much more expensive than mainstream treatment – which STILL has to be delivered to incarcerated people who are mentally ill and drug addicted – and this only adds to the expense.

The key to modern prison systems is the inmate classification system. I’m sure many readers have seen prison movies, ‘The Longest Yard’, ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘Tango and Cash’. All totally bogus, all totally Hollywood. Prison life is nothing like the movies.

Jails are where they put people who are arrested off the street. They either bond out or wait for their say in court. Prisons are where they put convicted criminals, people who have been to court, and the court deemed them not fit for civil living. Convicted criminals can get sentences of days to months to years to life to death. A traffic scofflaw with 11 outstanding tickets and 4 failures to appear is likely to get locked up for no more than a few months. Unless he gets pulled over one day, and has a gun under his seat. Then, he’ll get perhaps 5 years. Courts do NOT like guns or other weapons, but especially guns.

The vast majority of cases are plead out. Each court will have its own going rate for crimes. Burglary in the 3rd degree? 6 months. Assault in the 2nd degree? 18 months. Possession of controlled substance? 3 years. Possession with intent to sell? 5 years. Everyone knows the rates, except the defendant. Ever wonder why the courts need everyone there by 8:00am but don’t start until 10:00? And even then they are many times late in starting? The defendant’s lawyer, usually his Public Defender, gets with the Prosecutor in the Judges’ Chambers and go through the docket, deciding who will get what sentence. This usually takes a couple of hours. The PDs go back to their clients and tell them what a good deal they got them, ‘Look, plead guilty and the court will only want 6 months for that 3rd degree burglary! It’s a great deal. Take it.’ Then, court. The Judge looks at the defendant and pompously reminds him of the heinous crime he’s committed. ‘I’m tempted to through the book at you! Six months, [bang!] get him out of here!’

Cases which go to trial are usually heinous crimes, make the news, covered extensively in the MSM, and different rules apply in the courts. These are the High Profile cases. But they are few, less than 10% of cases, probably WAY less.

So, it’s off to prison. In prisons, there are inmates with 4 months, 6 months, a year... and inmates with 20 years, 30 years, life. Think about that. Does it seem likely to you that the inmate with 6 months might be victimized by the one with 25 years? Well, you’d be right.

The inmate classification system is the heart and soul of modern corrections. Each inmate is classified according to the risk of his or her containment. Risk of escape, risk of violence, risk of disruption. In my system, the Risk score is a number between 1 and 5. A level 5 inmate has a life sentence... or a death sentence. Such an inmate has nothing to lose, his or her behavior is completely at a whim, no social constraints. After all, society has already done their worst. What are they gonna do? Arrest him if he kills some queen sleeping on the top bunk or throws a handful of shit at a passing Correctional Officer? (NB: ‘Prison guard’ is passé, the correct term is ‘CO’) Well, yes, he’ll get arrested, State Police will be called, there will be an investigation... all that will happen. Which sometimes in itself is motive enough for this kind of behavior.

An inmate who is approved for community living, ‘Community Corrections,’ is a level 1 inmate. This is the language for someone on Parole or released to a half-way house. These inmates are still serving sentences, but are deemed socially enough fit to live in the community. This is a much better idea than keeping them to the bitter end, opening up the gates, and yelling, ‘Good luck! Don’t come back, y’hear?’ Having an Parole Officer to supervise their re-entry, making sure they have a suitable place to live, some leads on jobs, a few presentable changes of clothing is a good thing. It is also a good tool to relieve overcrowding. The inmate’s PO also has the authority to lock him or her back up just upon suspicion of bad behavior. But, the PO usually won’t bust him unless there is real cause. The PO is under pressure to keep the Parolee out on the street. Remember overcrowding. So, a Parolee has to really show bad faith to be remanded. This, of course, is the ideal system with ideal players, and as always, there are some bad apples in there. The profession somehow attracts them, and despite heavy screening, a few slip in. But in reality, they are kind of rare, these rogue Parole Officers. Most are conscientiously doing their job. At the end of the day, a Parolee’s PO wants him or her to do what most civilized people in our culture do: get and keep a job, get a decent place to live, abide by the law. No more... and no less.

So what is the difference between a Probation Officer and a Parole Officer? Pragmatically, nothing. Probation is a sentence, as in a person is arrested and convicted. But in lieu of time in prison, the person gets time on Probation complete with an Officer, another kind of PO, to make sure the Probationer does all those civilized things – jobs, housing, law abiding lifestyle – and doesn’t behave illegally any more. Unless the hapless offender gets a ‘split sentence’ meaning some time in Prison followed by a period of Probation. Parole is a ‘get out of jail early’ card.

Each system is different in its rules about who gets Parole. An inmate is eligible to be considered for Parole only, for example, after he or she has done 50% of his sentenced time. Or, after 50% if the crime is non-violent (read, drug related) but 75% if it is violent. Or some variation on this kind of rule.

Some prison systems employ the use of ‘good time’ to reduce sentence time, and hence, overcrowding. This means that for every month a prisoner behaves, he gets 10 days knocked off the end of the sentence.  This motivates good behavior, as you can plainly tell. A ‘model inmate’ under such rules stands to have his sentence reduced by one third. No small potatoes, especially on longer sentences.

But what is a maximum security prison? What is a minimum security prison? Medium security? Well, this is the magic of the inmate classification system. Remember those numbers between 1 and 5? A level 5 inmate will be housed in a max or super max prison. The way he or she is contained, as I mentioned, is critical since any behavior might occur at any time. And such an inmate has 24-7 to dream it up – as opposed to the CO who goes home after 8 hours, eats dinner, sleeps next to his or her significant other, and (hopefully) leaves the job at the job.

A level 4 inmates lives at the maximum security prison, a level 3 at the medium, and a level 2 at the minimum security prison. The minimums have dorms, 75 or 100 inmates with a single supervising CO. When the CO yells ‘LOCK UP’ in such a dorm, that means that each inmate sits or lays on his or her bunk. 75 or 100 to 1? Why do they behave? Because they are getting out soon. They have been approved for Parole. They have a lot to lose by misbehaving. So, they behave. Unless they believe they won’t get caught.

An inmate’s classification level is determined by a formula which takes into account a number of factors. The main factors are his or her crime and the length of the sentence. Generally, the more violent the crime, the higher the level. The longer the sentence, the higher the level. Other factors include whether or not the inmate is an identified gang member, whether he or she has behavioral incidents which violate the rules and require disciplinary action (and if so, the nature, number, and frequency of the incidents), and whether or not he or she has a history of escape.

After an initial risk level has been determined, it can be changed. It is not static – but then again, it is not very dynamic. An inmate with a long sentence can have it reduced after serving a significant portion of the sentence, and graduate to a lower level facility which may have better programs, living conditions, schools. The long range goal is to rehabilitate, but this is pointless if done up front on a long sentence. Sure, train the guy to rebuild small engines, say, and get him a GED, and provide substance abuse treatment... and then let him sit on his hands for the next 20 years... No, it works better to provide these kinds of services when he has only a few years or even a few months left before he is placed back in the community.

If his level is very high, it can be reduced several times until he is a minimum security inmate and can be transferred to a minimum security prison. It costs less per inmate to house them in minimum – even with the additional services. Some such prisons are called Pre-release prisons, since their 2ndary goal (don’t forget, the primary goal is ALWAYS, ALWAYS the ‘...safety and security of society, staff, and other inmates...’) is to prepare inmates for the transition back from prison inmate to law-abiding citizen.

The level can move up, as well. This is mostly done for disciplinary reasons. In my system, there are three classes of disciplinary reports, called ‘tickets’ by the inmates. The most serious, 1st Class, include assault, theft (of over $100 worth of goods), arson, intoxication, proven gang affiliation, other infractions which could and often do call for outside charges to be pressed, the Staties called in, investigations, etc. 2nd Class tickets include such things as being somewhere you don’t belong, lying to a CO, disobeying a direct order, theft of under $100. And 3rd Class tickets include poor hygiene, being out of uniform, other minor stuff that just can’t be ignored. An inmate’s risk level might move up – including transfer to a higher security facility – depending on the pattern of tickets. It takes something like three 1st or 2nd Class tickets in a limited period, like 6 months, to make a level increase.

I’ve written of offender classification issues in this installment, and I’ll address other issues in later editions. I intend to cover how inmate ‘needs’ are determined and met; how commissary and visitation works; privatization; and other issues in modern corrections.

Tags: prisons, corrections, incarceration, inmate

Originally posted to JohnMac on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 07:45 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Your diary is incredibly informative. (11+ / 0-)

    Well done!  But you forgot your tip jar!

  •  Jim Webb has taken this issue on (11+ / 0-)

    See here:

    Jim Webb on the Incarceration Crisis

    Great idea for a series, JohnMac!

    Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change. - Tennyson

    by bumblebums on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 07:55:57 PM PDT

    •  Politicians and prison reform (9+ / 0-)

      It's unusual to see a politician actually say something about the prison problems we have in this country.  In my opinion, it's because they (felons) are such easy targets for law-and-order types to beat up on in their campaigns.  Of course, "liberal" candidates who may assert that the system is broken are then easily classified as "soft on crime" so everyone is cowed into not saying anything.

      On the Republican side, some candidates talk about Faith-based programs as a way of reforming our prisons, but I view them as a two-fer for them.  They can look compassionate AND beef up their religious image.  Frankly though, I think it's mostly just pandering.

      If you have any information on the effectiveness of faith-based programs in prison, please share your experiences.  I've heard there is no evidence that they actually work, but I don't know to be honest.  I also wonder if they aren't just ways to funnel money to Christian groups.

      •  Faith based programs (19+ / 0-)

        The state prison system in which I work has no 'faith based' programs, per se. It has professional Chaplains of various faiths - Christian, Native American, Jewish, Muslim - who hold services such as Mass, Juma, Bible Study, Sweat Lodges. But they don't track what happens to the inmates once they are released. At least, not in any meaningful way to measure recidivism.

        The system also allows volunteers to come into the prisons and jails to hold Bible services, AA and NA meetings, and the like. But they are strictly volunteers and no funding is involved - at least, no governmental funding. The volunteer program for a particular church or organization may fund specific programs for them, travel expenses, etc.

        You're right, it's a tough subject for politicians to talk about, and for the exact reasons you mention. But something has to be done. Look at California, their system is in collapse, 70% over capacity and facing Federal "open the doors and let 'em out!" orders. And why? Because of Get Tough on Crime! mandatory sentencing, 3 strikes and yer out!, criminalization of various low social risk behaviors, etc. I don't have the answers, but I know we need to talk about it.

        POMBO's BEEN PRIVATIZED!

        by JohnMac on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:15:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I recall reading about a "faith based" drug rehab (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          elveta, panicbean, greenearth, norahc

          program--I think it was at Donovan,a state prison in San Diego County.  My recollection is that the program was successful but their weren't enough slots for all the applicants.  

          •  Not surprised (6+ / 0-)

            While we don't have faith based drug rehabs in my system (other that 12-Step Fellowships, if you can classify them that way), we do have very good drug rehab programs. I'll address them in some detail later in the series. But what you say is true, right now in my particular minimum security pre-release institution, general population of 1400, we can treat up to 60 at a time - this, with 75 to 80 percent there for some alcohol or drug related jackpot, and an active (ie, the inmates themselves requesting it) waiting list of about 350.

            POMBO's BEEN PRIVATIZED!

            by JohnMac on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:24:29 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  What about the Prison Guard union in California? (6+ / 0-)

          I've heard they are a powerful special interest.

          Can you address that?  Do they want to lock up more (!) people?

          I fear that the Prison-Industrial complex in this country is a huge obstacle to dramatic change.  And some communities want prisons because there are no other jobs, right?

          For-profit prisons as also an appalling concept and should be banned from existence, if you ask me.

          FWIW, my step brother was in and out of various prisons and HATED them.  I don't think he was ever "reformed" in any of them.  Obviously it would have been a smart move on his part to have cleaned up his act, but re-joining society after he was released the first time was a huge problem for him because no one would hire him.  He ended up working for a telemarketer (which seems to be a profession that actually gives them a chance), but he was never quite able to re-integrate into society.  It was partially his fault, but the stigma of being a former prisoner certainly doesn't help any of them.

          •  I get this all the time (10+ / 0-)

            And from inmates! Yes, the unionized prison workers do have an interest in keeping people locked up. But that is a short view. Personally, my interest is to help inmates toward their rehabilitation - I know that sounds self serving, but it's true. But even if my rehab rate was 100%, I seriously doubt my job would be in jeopardy. I'm not too worried. There is plenty of crime, plenty of police, plenty of courts. It'll take more than one person, or even several, to turn that around. It'll take long range reform, hard choices, etc.

            And I feel for your brother. Prisons are not nice places, the inmates I deal with hate it. And you also point out another part of the problem - what to do with them once they have paid their debt to society? Who's gonna hire 'em? Besides telemarketers, long distance trucking is another industry willing to hire ex-cons. There are others. My pre release institution has a full time staff member whose only job is to help inmates find jobs, write resumes, and learn how to answer that question, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?"
            Reforms have to come from many directions, working together, to work.

            POMBO's BEEN PRIVATIZED!

            by JohnMac on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:33:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  In 1992 (I believe), (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            old wobbly, YoyogiBear

            in response to a federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding, the Governor of California (Duke?) proposed releasing all non-violent state-prison inmates who were within 6 months of their parole date.  

            The proposal was challenged and successful defeated by the prison guard union because it would cut into their overtime!

            Yes, prison employees actually kept human beings in jail so they could make money off their misery.

            If this isn't the tail wagging the dog...

            (-7.75, -7.69) No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up - Lily Tomlin

            by john07801 on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 09:43:50 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  A link to a faith based group doing working in (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        norahc

        the prison system.  A patient in our practice is a member and he loves doing the work, says their numbers are very good regarding recidivism.  Interesting site.

        http://www.kairosprisonministry.org/...

        Where the hell are we going and why am I in this damn handbasket?

        by panicbean on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:47:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Please ignore typo, thanks. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          norahc

          Where the hell are we going and why am I in this damn handbasket?

          by panicbean on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:49:49 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, interesting (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          panicbean, norahc

          Especially in that they don't seem to be governmentally funded. Of course, one can't really tell that just based on the information given at the site, but they do ask for donations - as do most faith based enterprises.

          POMBO's BEEN PRIVATIZED!

          by JohnMac on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:50:31 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yes, they do. They also ask for homebaked (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            norahc

            cookies to take out on their missions.

            The patient of ours is a huge Bush supporter and Fox news watcher, so he peaked my interest when he talked about his week-end involvement with this group.  

            We have had some interesting discussions, but I can't fault him for the work that he does.

            Where the hell are we going and why am I in this damn handbasket?

            by panicbean on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 09:05:09 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I don't have sympathy for many of those criminals (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    redcardphreek

    I don't buy the liberal "theory" of crime: that all criminals do their actions because we live in a "racist"/"classist" society and that they deserve "sympathy" as a result. I don't buy that. I reject that reasoning that we should have "compassion" for those who steal, maim, assault, kill, rape, and so forth.

    I agree that non-violent drug offenders should perhaps be put in diversionary or rehabilitation programs to relieve the inmate crisis. However, I have little sympathy for violent criminals and have no problem with locking them up for a long time.

    http://www.keen.com/jiacinto For DC related travel advice, please visit that link.

    by jiacinto on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:05:54 PM PDT

    •  violent criminals (6+ / 0-)

      need to do some serious time, period.

      Drug crimes......depends on the offense.

      Prison for possession goes way way too far.

    •  Sympathy? No. How about common sense? (7+ / 0-)

      In the end, most violent criminals will be released. Day after day they live in circumstances that do not resemble ordinary society, and couple that with the long prison sentences some advocate. What do you think that hardened criminal will be like when he's pushed out into the real world? A social butterfly?

      •  I vote for 2 Strikes and you're out, for good. (0+ / 0-)
        •  That's a nice bumper sticker, but how many more (5+ / 0-)

          prisons do you want to build?  How much would be too much money to spend on incarceration?

          No offense, but very little thought seems to go into the crime & punishment debate amongst those who are eager to lock them all up.

        •  In that scheme. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          greenearth, norahc, john07801, YoyogiBear

          The problems are even worse because if someone gets caught up, steals a candy bar for example, and realizes that he'll be incarcerated for life, then what will prevent him from trying to kill the witnesses?

          If you knew you were going to prison for the rest of your life, wouldn't that make you do desperate things to avoid that?

          •  Good example. It's a cartoonish proposal n/t (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            greenearth, norahc, john07801, Kronos Blue
          •  Only for violent crimes... (0+ / 0-)
            •  It's still a robotic slogan. (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              debedb, norahc, john07801

              Why have a criminal justice system if everyone will get the same sentence?  I thought sentencing was the job job of the judges?

              With your one-size-fits-all proposal, we could simply create a menu of crimes & penalties and let a computer determine the sentence.

              Naturally, rich people (Bush kids, for example) will be able to use their connections to avoid 2 strikes you're out life sentences, as well.

              Who's going to take care of 80 year old men (or women) who, 50 years ago, got in a 2nd fight and are in prison until they die?

              I look forward to your well thought out answer.

              •  Because, I really (0+ / 0-)

                don't care as long as the violent criminal can't harm innocent people anymore.  If you want to room and board them with your family, be my guest.  And yes, a computer could take care of violent offenders.  

                Your crack about rich people when responding to me is just ...weird.

                I don't care about old people who have committed violent offences to the point of being jailed for life.  That's their choice.  Law abiding citizens have more rights than violent criminals.  That's a novel viewpoint I know.

                I'm not in prison because I make conscious choices about my actions.  Don't you?

                •  I'm trying to clarify some things, that's all (0+ / 0-)

                  So, if I understand you correctly:

                  • you'd be willing to incarcerate a violent offender using your two-strikes formula, basically for life.  Let's say that someone who has been convicted of assault twice by the time they're 25 years old will live to be 75 y.o.  They will be in prison for 50 years (no judge necessary) at a cost of $20,000/year.  You're willing to spend $1,000,000 (this is probably a very conservative figure) to keep them locked up for life, no matter what sort of progress they may have made or whether or not they become infirm?  What happens to their kids?  They all get raised in an orphanage?  Maybe you'll adopt them?  Will the federal government be paying for this or will states be paying?  Are you happy with the relentless, unavoidable expense you'll incur to permanently imprison all these people, even it it means that schools, roads, and other government services get starved for funding because they have to pay to keep an old man (or woman) in jail?

                  I'm not talking about you being rich.  I'm talking about wealthy people who can hire a lawyer to get them off or otherwise use their family connections to quash a conviction.  Would you agree that this probably happens on occasion now?  If so, do you think this is just?

                  Of course I make my own decisions.  I'm more interested in the real-world impact of this bumper sticker policy.  Obviously money doesn't grow on trees.  How do you plan to pay for this?  How many more prisons would you build?  Do you think this is an effective use of our limited financial resources?

                  I don't mean to offend you, but this reminds me of the right wingers who reflexively call for the nuking of, say, Iran.  It's as though they haven't even bothered to think what happens next (our troops and allies in the region get contaminated by radioactive fallout, no one will ever be able to use the land again to, say, retrieve the oil, etc.)  It sounds muscular but that's all.

                  I agree, violent crimes are bad.  But a cookie-cutter approach to dealing with violent offenders is just lazy thinking, in my opinion.  I don't want to spend 10's of billions of dollars every single year to keep every single violent offender in prison for life.  If you want to keep this converation going, I'd definitely be interested in hearing how you'd implement this system (details).  Frankly, I think your response is purely emotional and poorly thought out.

                  •  Let me clarify (0+ / 0-)

                    When I say violent crime I mean really violent, not just punching s/o.  Rape, attempted murder, that level.

                    As far as cost.  Not a problem.  Lots of empty space out west.  Work camp set up where they are made to work and produce s/o to offset costs.  Minimal health care, no niceties, basic food and shelter + good marksmen.

                    If rich people are getting away with murder then the court system + judges need an overhaul.  That doesn't mean we let the dangerous and violent loose on society when we do nail them.

                    If we let out all those low level drug dealers, drug users and the like that would be good.  

                    •  Fair enough. Thanks for your time. (0+ / 0-)

                      I still think it would need to be hashed out considerably more than we have been doing and I still think it's an attempt to simplify something that is more complicated than people give it credit for, but I have a better idea what you're talking about, anyway.

          •  In my opinion (0+ / 0-)

            this is why child molestations has turned into murders.

            Get caught for a sexual offense and go to prison forever.  Why would you leave witnesses?

            (-7.75, -7.69) No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up - Lily Tomlin

            by john07801 on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 09:17:15 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  That's what got California into trouble (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          alizard, mariachi mama

          And CA has three-strikes and you are out.

          Along with huge prison overcrowding and budget overruns.

          Along with cuts in the rehabilitation programs that would prevent recividism.

          No thanks.

          X strikes and you are out is a very bad idea.

      •  As the diarist points out, a person sentenced to (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        YoyogiBear

        state prison isn't usually a social butterfly upon entry into the prison system.  One actually has to mess up pretty badly to be sentenced to state prison.  

        •  But one so sentenced (5+ / 0-)

          doesn't necessarily have nothing to begin with.

          Prison helps to insure they will have nothing when they come out: no job, no home, no furniture or clothes, no friends and, perhaps, no family. People like this are considerably more likely to break the law, no?

          If the system does nothing to help them stay out of prison the next time, what's the point?

          (-7.75, -7.69) No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up - Lily Tomlin

          by john07801 on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:54:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I live in the land of 3 strikes. When your (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            YoyogiBear

            thoughts are posed, many people respond--well at least the inmate can't commit any crimes while they are incarcarated.  Not saying I agree--that's why the effort to require that the third strikek be for a violent felony was voted down.  Of course, California correctional facilities are fast becoming skilled nursing facilities with lots of secutiry.

    •  I am pretty sure that is a strawman argument (0+ / 0-)

      way too many "words" in "quotes" if you "know" what I "mean".  

      trying to thing of something new - watch here for results "Nihil curo de ista tua stulta superstitione"

      by norahc on Mon Apr 09, 2007 at 12:08:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I lived in a prison town through my teens... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    macdust, elveta, panicbean, norahc, YoyogiBear

    and am prison obsessed.I'm getting stink-eyed right now because I'm supposed to be out the door, but I'm so very excited about your diary series...

  •  Experimental College Course - Prison: A view (9+ / 0-)

    From the Inside.

    This was the course title of a class I took when attending the University of Washington in Seattle.

    We took about 6 trips or so to a medium security facility in Monroe, Washington to hear about prisons from the prisoners themselves.  They covered all sorts of topics (labor in prisons, effectiveness of punishments, etc.) and the speakers tended to change from week to week, but the leader was the same.  It was a very interesting course and, as I recall, was less than $50 to attend.

    If anyone lives in the Seattle area, it would be worth checking to see if it's still available.  For those in other parts of the country, it might be interesting to see if something similar is offered in your community.

  •  Very informative (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elveta, greenearth, norahc, AntKat, YoyogiBear

    Thanks for posting this. I look forward to reading the rest.

    Support Our Troops: Send the Commander-in-Chief to the Front!

    by eodell on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:12:10 PM PDT

  •  Restitution Centers (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    panicbean, norahc

    Restitution Centers are for a very limited number of felons.  First of all a Restitution Center is for people who have committed non violent crimes.  In a Restitution Center, the residents are required to find a job in the community.  When they find that job, one-third of their earnings go to pay their restituion, one-third of their earnings go to pay for their incarceration, and one-third goes to them.  Some of the requirements to qualify for a restitution center is that you have no history of violent crimes, drug use,  and that you owe money to your victim.  

    I do not know what weapons World War III will be fought with. World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. -- Albert Einstein

    by elveta on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:21:33 PM PDT

  •  As someone who spent considerable time ... (15+ / 0-)

    ...in a juvenile facility (a long time ago), I'd be obliged to see a section of one of your Diaries deal with what I consider to be the immoral incarceration of juveniles in adult prisons.

  •  Good diary (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    macdust, norahc, AntKat, john07801

    I only disagree with your characterization of the role of PDs.

    I spend almost half my time at work in jail with prisoners and COs, both of us in my experience are looking after the best interests of the client/defendant/prisoner.

    "Bad philosophers are like slum landlords. It's my job to put them out of business."

    by Sharif on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:40:45 PM PDT

  •  My all time best research assistant had spent (13+ / 0-)

    18 months in prison, for marijuana related charges. I figured that if being involved with marijuana was justification to deny a job both my brothers would be unemployed for life. So I hired him and he was absolutely wonderful at the bench.

    He said he had had sixty interviews before I hired him.

    •  Good for you! How are these folks ever to attain (6+ / 0-)

      get and keep a job, get a decent place to live, abide by the law. No more... and no less.

      without folks like you willing to take a chance and open a door.

      Wanted: A Dem who can win PA-18 in 2008!

      by AntKat on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:51:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It was really a "cast your bread on the waters" (0+ / 0-)

        sort of thing - it took a certain amount of resolution and discernment to make the decision, but he was a brilliant experimentalist. Some of his pictures were world class.

        Another example of how we really don't know each other's worlds - he took double images, red for one protein, green for another, that were extremely good. It was only after he had worked with me for a couple of years that I discovered he was color blind! I asked him how he did it, and all he could say was, I adjust the first one until it looks good, then the second, and then I balance the two channels until they look good together.

  •  My problem with the criminal justice system (9+ / 0-)

    (especially the Department of Corrections) is that they forget that 99% of inmates will one day be released.  They are treated like shit every day, then released and expected to comport themselves like gentlemen.

    The brutality of the individual, the neglect by Custody, the promoted racism, the lack of resources, the refusal of education initiatives all do so to the detriment of the inmate population and their ultimate success in society.

    Prison staff think of inmates the same as zookeepers think of their animals, except that less protections are required.

    (-7.75, -7.69) No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up - Lily Tomlin

    by john07801 on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:48:16 PM PDT

    •  Can't argue with that (8+ / 0-)

      I see it every day. But somehow - and remember, I'm 17 years worth of burnout - it seems less that it did 10 years ago. Less intensity, fewer staff with that attitude. Just my judgement - but perhaps I see what want to see, what I'm looking for.

      And believe me, I know they are getting out and moving in next door to you and me! I see it happen every day, see former inmates at the malls and grocery stores. It motivates me to treat them humanely.

      POMBO's BEEN PRIVATIZED!

      by JohnMac on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:54:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Damn! Good for you (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ZappoDave, norahc, YoyogiBear

        Just for you to be self-doubting after 17 years is a tribute to you (or your training, or how your parents raised you, etc.)

        Everyone is unique, even those in prison.  They deserve a chance to learn from their mistakes.

        You sound pretty damn unique, too.

        (-7.75, -7.69) No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up - Lily Tomlin

        by john07801 on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 09:01:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Most, if not all, of the jail staff I have ever (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      macdust, Sharif, john07801, YoyogiBear

      dealt with have been great people doing the best they can with the resources they were given.  Not that I was ever really happy to be dealing with them, but it was never their fault.  The problem goes to a higher level than the staff or even the DOC, it goes back to what we as a society choose to devoite those resources to.

      trying to thing of something new - watch here for results "Nihil curo de ista tua stulta superstitione"

      by norahc on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:55:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Prison staff are in a difficult position (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        norahc

        It's truly a "rock and a hard place" type of job.

        The inmates are quick to press legal challanges and accusals but the higher-ups in Custody are even more unforgiving.

        Fortunately, the violence-based hot-dog types usually wash out.

        (-7.75, -7.69) No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up - Lily Tomlin

        by john07801 on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 09:04:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  My only legal filing (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          macdust, john07801, YoyogiBear

          was a habeas corpus one when I was spending 30 days on a contempt of court charge.  I was upset at being sentenced to jail without a trial.  Interestingly enough this was in 2001 or 2002, long before we though about the implications of losing this right (I got no response from the court on my writ, it is pretty easy to ignore stuff from jail as there is no one to enforce prisioners rights)That said the guards did a good job and brought me to the library whenever there was enough staff to do such.
          I think that there may have been a change in both the training and education of guards in the last 20 years, but this does vary based on state.  My guess (no data sorry) is that the better training and pay the corrections officers get the better the conditions inside the prisions will be.

          trying to thing of something new - watch here for results "Nihil curo de ista tua stulta superstitione"

          by norahc on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 09:21:41 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  As both an ex-con and a current (8+ / 0-)

    board member on my counties Law enforcement board I look foward to more discussion on this issue.  We have a limited pot of money to work with, and the more time someone is locked up the less money there is for raises for our employees, squad cars that work when you need them, programs to prevent recidivism, or education for youths.

    I found a link somewhere that lists the incarceration rates by states... here it is

    Incarceration rates by state

    A great quote from someone (I wish I could remember, but I can't accurately enough to attribute) was
    "we need to learn to seperate the people we are mad at from the people we are afraid of"

    We simply do not have the money without making sacrifices in every other government program to lock up the people we are mad at.

    trying to thing of something new - watch here for results "Nihil curo de ista tua stulta superstitione"

    by norahc on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 08:51:13 PM PDT

  •  Thanks, JohnMac (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    norahc

    This is an extremely important issue.  I look forward to your future installments.

    (-7.75, -7.69) No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up - Lily Tomlin

    by john07801 on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 09:45:03 PM PDT

  •  hm. i wasn't an inmate. i was a convict. (6+ / 0-)

    the difference is visceral. i was a convict. i'm an excon. a felon. you gotta know that once convicted, yer always a convict.  and "corrections"? born from the same virulent word poison as "clear skies" and "no child left behind." feh.

    this series will be written, as so much is, by a person who holds Power. the diarist seems an honest worker, intent on general social welfare -- but his position precludes understanding of the world of the incarcerated. he is the decider here.

    i've now been on the bricks for years, in many ways i am no longer a true voice for today's convicts, although in the past i have been--loud & proud--one of those voices. in any case, i would like to present some of my perceptions as someone from the convicted class (ha!), into this first diary of an ongoing series:

    in my experience the corruption of the american justice system, courts to juvie to pelican bay to gitmo, is absolute, unrelenting and profitable.

    the justice system is merely a reflection of the over-arching intentions of the government, it's demonstrated in the attitudes of people who work in justice, in prisons, in law enforcement: the fundamental goal is to maintain the economic/political/cultural advantage for the benefit of the wealth-controlling few.

    and finally, it may not be useful to discuss the domestic criminal justice system without recognizing the parallel systems & methodolgies in place on every level of our government: gitmo, abu ghraib, and secret renditions to secret prisons all over the world -- these horrors have their roots, carefully tended for generations in american prisons.

    •  Agreed (0+ / 0-)

      No offense to the original poster, but it's impossible for those in power to examine their power without bias. The article provides information; it also presents one point of view.

      No returns for privilege; full returns for labor! Labor has a right to all that it creates.

      by Mike Erwin on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 10:44:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I was hoping (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      old wobbly

      that some ex-offender, ex-con would contribute a point of view that I can't see. It's true; a sighted person will never be able to adequately describe red or blue to a blind person.

      On the other hand, given that truth, you have two kinds of blind persons: 1- those who consequently don't give a shit about art, and 2- those who do, eventually coming to realize that even if art has no direct benefit to them, they benefit indirectly by living in a world filled with art.

      I've heard your argument before. Yes, I'm giving you info as to how the system operates, what the thinking is of those in power, and from my point of view. I never meant to imply otherwise, and apologize if it seemed like it.

      I also doubt your assertion that

      the fundamental goal is to maintain the economic/political/cultural advantage for the benefit of the wealth-controlling few.

      It could be true to some degree, but it is not absolute. There are plenty of altruistic and pragmatic practitioners of law enforcement and justice systems whose goal is to maintain the status quo for the good of society. Your argument doesn't address what to do with people who make choices and engage in behaviors that are antithetical to that goal. And there will always be those kinds, it is part of the human condition. Wherever more than two people get together, rules emerge on how to get along peacefully, with questions and ideas about how to deal with those who don't conform.

      And at the end of the day, most of those incarcerated - at least, most of them who I deal with directly - would rather deal with me, blind as I am, than with the staff who doesn't give a shit about art.

      POMBO's BEEN PRIVATIZED!

      by JohnMac on Mon Apr 09, 2007 at 08:51:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  art! art! now there's the goodness innit all (0+ / 0-)

        art. joy. even in the darkest of days. ha. you hit on a center i hadn't known you were aware of. so much for myyyyy assumptions about you.

        none of my asertions are absolute -- i mean, after all, if i were to take an absolutist position we couldn't hava discussion, we'd just stand there, arms folded, chin up, glaring and trying to appear taller... or smarter ... or artsier. how dull.

        many of us have HUGE discussions about what to do with people-who-needa-be-kept-offa-the-streets. working from the assumption that there aren't REALLY that many of us who ever NEEDA be incarcerated, we examined crime, decided that the only real crimes were cruelty & greed. we all agreed that the people with no kindness in em should be exiled. simple. we got bogged down, notso much with who judged -- but with the problem of the "border guards" and how awful that job would be.

        eh. my points, which i will attempt to refine if i remain welcome to participate in your diaries, are that the existing system is truly broken, the ramifications of this broken system reverberate through our whole society, and until people can look with open eyes at how america treats those people who step over boundaries -- rightly stepping, or foully stepping -- everyone everyone everyone is in jeopardy.

        again-- abu ghraib and the halliburton camps cannot be separated from the domestic prison system.

        •  Too bad you haven't given up your (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          old wobbly

          email address, I'd like to correspond with you. Please, make yourself welcome in the discussions. Participate away. You might be surprised to find I agree with you on many issues. You might not. But I'm interested in your point of view, since, as you say, I can't really know it without having been there.

          POMBO's BEEN PRIVATIZED!

          by JohnMac on Mon Apr 09, 2007 at 05:40:06 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  The strongest correlatiion to non-recidivism (7+ / 0-)

    Inmates who got college degrees while incarcerated.

    Clinton and Gingrich teamed up to cut off Federal funds for these programs.

    Democratic Candidate for US Senator, Wisconsin, in 2012

    Runamarchy: n., the end product of corrosion of constitutional order.

    by ben masel on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 11:06:17 PM PDT

    •  Some friends of mine explained (0+ / 0-)

      that they couldn't afford to send their kids to  college - and the kids couldn't do it on their own - so they really resented the college program.  I see the frustration.  But the initial problem is that education for those who want it should be easier for all.  Of course, resentment is used by the Republicans for gain - and it works.    

      I have no patience with people who grow old at 60 just because they are entitled to a bus pass. Mary Wesley, British novelist

      by xanthe on Mon Apr 09, 2007 at 05:33:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  State variants (6+ / 0-)
    1. A good number of States went to "Truth in Sentencing" in the late '90s. In these, there's no parole, and thus little incentive to make a record that you're a good parole risk.
    1. Most States use the County Jail system for sentences under a year, reserving the Prisons for longer sentences. The Diarist's State would appear to be an exception. The fed system does not distinguish. Also no parole on Fed sentences.

    Democratic Candidate for US Senator, Wisconsin, in 2012

    Runamarchy: n., the end product of corrosion of constitutional order.

    by ben masel on Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 11:12:04 PM PDT

  •  I wanted to be a parole officer when (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mariachi mama

    I was in college many years ago.  I was told it was a "political" job and since I didn't know any political types except my sleepwalking precinct worker - it was not possible.  I suspect there are many people who are shut out because of this.

    A friend of mine, a young, attractive woman, an actress and writer, became a CO in Arizona.  Because there were no other jobs - this is a big business -- corrections.  I know nothing about the system, so appreciate the diary.  btw, she's out now - she hated it but hung on for medical and rent money for about 2 years.  She was good too - though the male COs had problems with her.  

    I fall into the well-meaning but probably clueless liberal here.  It troubles me that some young kids get into the prison system and can't afford a lawyer while the real criminals in DC are making fortunes and living well.  That is really disgusting to me - sometimes you just need a break when you're young.    

    I have no patience with people who grow old at 60 just because they are entitled to a bus pass. Mary Wesley, British novelist

    by xanthe on Mon Apr 09, 2007 at 05:31:49 AM PDT

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