Good news: “Three strikes and you might be out, of prison” is working in California and Diane Sawyer’s recent ABC special’ “A Nation of Women Behind Bars’” was superb with real insight and balanced journalism. Bad news: ISIS is randomly kidnapping Christians; the former head of Mississippi’s Department of Corrections plead guilty February 25th to corruption charges and oh yes, a major riot occurred in a privately run Federal prison in Texas. The ugly? Attica makes Rikers look good. Let’s unpack this.
It turns out that some older California inmates, lifers convicted under the three strikes and you’re out law, have been released early due to prison overcrowding: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/us/california-convicts-are-out-of-prison-after-third-strike-and-staying-out.html. Surprise, surprise! They have a 4.7% rate of recidivism compared to the 45% average; sometimes giving people a second chance at life, especially those doing life, is good. Maybe three strikes and your out has been a complete failure, who owns that one?
My wife Patty and I watched Diane Sawyer’s ABC special on women behind bars with obvious interest. Patty thought it was very good although they didn’t visit any federal facilities. The heartache, loss of hope and collateral damage resulting from bad choices was palpable, it was not tabloid journalism; they got it right. For the record (bad pun), it’s one thing to watch it on TV, it’s another thing to live it.
In Jackson Mississippi, Christopher Epps plead guilty to federal counts of tax evasion and money laundering conspiracy, thirty eight counts were dropped in the plea bargain. Not only was he Mississippi Commissioner of Corrections, he had also been president of the American Correctional Association. He apologized to the court, to his family and to the citizens of Mississippi according to his attorney; I guess that includes the inmates, I’m not sure: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/25/us-usa-mississippi-prison-idUSKBN0LT1X620150225
In the past, I have criticized prisons operated by for profit corporations. Recently a riot took place in a CAR (Criminal Alien Requirement) prison south of San Antonio Texas. The Willacy County Correctional Facility is run by Management and Training Corporation for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The place was trashed, 2,800 inmates will be transferred, we the taxpayer will foot the bill I’m sure. The Federal Bureau of Prisons needs to take a serious look at what caused the riot. Was it stale date food, lousy health care, racism or brutality? Find out what happened, report the findings and fix it; the inmates may be immigrants but hey, so were most of our relatives. The ACLU report on this prison is pretty shocking: https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/060614-aclu-car-reportonline.pdf
So where’s the hope, some of this is pretty depressing? Knowledge is power, apathy is corrosive. Keep shining the spotlight on Attica, Rikers Island, corruption in corrections, for profit prisons and lousy mental health care behind bars. The status quo is simply unacceptable, out of sight out and out of mind is not an option, nor is brutality with impunity. Those bringing light to these dark places are heroes, be they honest guards, chaplains or volunteers. I care because my wife did time. Do you care? I pray that you do.