The exhibit “Hidden Lives Illuminated” on display at Eastern State Penitentiary features 20 short films created by currently incarcerated men and women.
Corrections Media Clips
Data indicate that women aging in prison, like their male counterparts, are sicker than non-incarcerated women. Because of this, the National Institute on Corrections and some state prisons systems classify inmates at “elderly” when they turn age 50.
Critics sometimes refer to American prisons as “warehouses,” but that suggests that people go out the same way they came in. Recent events remind us that understaffed prisons can cause harm, not only for people who are incarcerated, but also those who work there.
Education helps to bracket incarcerated peoples’ well-grounded resentment of the senselessness of this system, opening the way for change.
John Wetzel, the head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections, has invested in employee assistance programs to provide counseling and mental health services to correctional officers.
Corrections facilities often cut corners on food in an effort to save money. But this may cost taxpayers more in the long run. According to a 2017 analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative, after staffing, health care is the public prison system’s largest expense, setting government agencies back $12.3 billion a year.
Republican State Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg recently filed Senate Bill 642, the “Florida First Step Act,” which would allow judges to depart from mandatory minimums for drug trafficking charges. It also calls for allowing inmates to earn more time off of their sentences if they earn a diploma or participate in an entrepreneurship program.
One of Ron Jackson’s first acts as warden after being appointed by the tribal executive board in 2016 was to gather the inmates in a circle and lead them in a prayer for redemption. He also allowed prisoners to travel overnight to powwows and other Native ceremonies. Although many of them struggle with substance abuse, they all passed drug tests on their return.
Reviews by court-appointed experts in 2014 and 2018 reported pervasive problems in the health care provided in Illinois prisons. The most recent report attributed numerous preventable deaths to the poor quality of care, according to court records.
Walter “Earlonne” Woods, 47, was recently released from San Quentin State Prison after California Gov. Jerry Brown commuted his 31-years-to-life sentence for attempted armed robbery. Brown cited Woods’ leadership in helping other inmates and his work at ”Ear Hustle,” a podcast he co-hosts and co-produces that documents everyday life inside the prison.
The state of incarceration in America is such a massive problem that it can feel abstract and distant. But it’s actually quite tangible, proximate, and solvable. And as Vera Institute’s Incarceration Trends tool shows, it’s a problem that’s actually in all of our backyards because it is city and county officials—such as police, prosecutors, and judges—who decide who and how to arrest, prosecute, and sentence.
I met Haines the first time I visited San Quentin State Prison. He has worked in various editing positions at San Quentin News, one of the country’s only prison newspapers, for almost a decade. There, he helps produce a 20-page paper every month with only a few computers and no Internet access. The results reach 30,000 incarcerated and free subscribers across the United States.
The program is testing whether participation in educational opportunities increases after access to financial aid for incarcerated adults is expanded. It is also examining how waiving the restriction on providing Pell Grants to individuals incarcerated in federal or state prisons influences academic and life outcomes.
The women, who have had a say in the new menus, report greater satisfaction. More are coming to the dining hall rather than eating food they buy in the commissary. They say that has improved morale in the prison, which could translate into fewer squabbles and heightened safety.
Women can lose “good conduct credits” that would shorten an inmate’s sentence, causing them to spend more time behind bars. In California, between January 2016 and February 2018, women had the equivalent of 1,483 years added to their sentences through good-credit revocations, and at a higher rate than for male prisoners.
Connecticut is trying to push back by focusing on one group that is especially likely to return to prison: young women, ages 18 to 25. It began in the summer of 2015, when Scott Semple, who runs the Connecticut state prison system, spent a week visiting prisons in Germany.
Research found that California’s Prop 47 had no appreciable impact on crime in the year following its enactment. Specifically, it had no effect on rates of homicide, rape, aggravated assault, robbery or burglary.
Former City Council member David Greenfield applauded the decision on Twitter and noted the story of a mom forced to sell her food stamps so her children could call their father, who was incarcerated in Rikers.
In jail, reading can be a lifeline to the world outside of the cell, a connection to normalcy — or an escape to complete fantasy. In the insular, barred world of a county lockup, it’s a way to keep the days full and the tensions low.
“Predators thrive off isolation and trauma, so prisons and jails are perfect hunting grounds because there you have a captive population of women who often have nowhere to go, and no support when they’re released,” said Nicole Bell, a trafficking survivor and founder of Living in Freedom Together, an anti-trafficking organization in Massachusetts.