A Second Chance for Prisoners, and Their Warden

The New York Times

By Erica L. Green and Annie Waldman

This article was reported and written in a collaboration with ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative journalism organization.

Every day Ron Jackson walks into work and is reminded of his failures.

As Mr. Jackson, the warden of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation adult correctional facility, patrols the cells, he sees Native American inmates who might be leading productive lives on the outside if they had graduated from high school. And Mr. Jackson, a member of the Assiniboine tribe, says he feels partly responsible.

Before becoming warden, he served on the Wolf Point school board for 15 years, 10 as its chairman. He pushed to curb discrimination in the town’s schools against Native Americans, who make up more than half of students but less than one-fifth of the staff. He fought for more reading instruction and other support for Native children and challenged decisions to expel them. But his efforts mostly fell flat as the white majority on the board outvoted or ignored him.

Now he has been meeting some of those dropouts as adults on the other end of the school-to-prison pipeline.

“I still see the effects of our schools,” he said. “We got grandparents 70, 80 years old, can’t read and write because they went to these schools. Their kids are doing the same thing; they don’t care if they go to school.”

At 64, Mr. Jackson hasn’t given up. More than a century ago, the federal government opened up unused land on the reservation to white settlers, whose descendants have long dominated Wolf Point’s politics, business and school system. But corrections and policing of tribal members has been under Native control for decades, and Mr. Jackson is trying to make the most of it.

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