Sunday, June 5, 2011
Inmate's Need Education Programs
The U.S. has 2.2 million inmates behind bars more than any other country. While our population is only 5 percent of the world, we have 25 percent of world's total incarceration -- and the situation is very complicated.
Half of all state and federal prisons are more than 100 percent full. At the Ohio state prison at Lebanon, 30 percent of the inmates are killers, rapists and juvenile sex offenders. They live in 6-foot-by-10-foot cells originally designed for one, but now holding two using bunk beds, a stainless steel toilet, a small writing desk and an equally small personal cabinet. They are allowed a small TV, provided they have the cash to buy one; most do not.
The former head of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections recently said, "We don't rehabilitate anybody; we just create the conditions where prisoners can rehabilitate themselves." Most don't.
Nationwide, 700,000 prisoners are released every year about one third of the prison population. Of those, two thirds will be back in three years. One third of drug addicts will be back in less than one year, and 70 percent of those returning are felons.
The California Prison system is at more than 200 percent of capacity. The California Salinas Valley Prison has 220 inmates sleeping in triple-decker bunks on the floor of a basketball court. No bars, no steel doors, no nothing. It is called "warehousing."
In prisons that warehouse inmates, inmates are likely to be worse off when they leave than when they entered. They will have lived out their sentences with violent criminals. When they leave, they have no money, no job prospects, no plans and very little hope.
This groupie method always leads to gang formation, and there are frequently three gangs blacks, whites and Latino. Since the blacks outnumber the others, most of the violence is between the whites and Latinos. At the Ironwood State Prison in California's Mojave Desert, there were 35,000 inmate attacks in the past year. Homicides have increased more than 50 percent in the past five years.
Drugs are everywhere inside the prison walls heroin, marijuana, ecstasy and crystal meth. Almost all the gang killings are drug-related. Drug addiction claims 35 percent of the inmates. It is a bone-fide business grossing $300 million per year and a growth market. The profits are huge because the prices are extreme. One gram of heroin has a street price of $100. In a prison, it's $1,000 the same for a half-ounce of crystal meth.
Guards are virtually unable to control the outbreak of violence until dozens of guards are assembled, which takes enough time for some to kill others. At Ironwood, the ratio of inmates to guards is 100:1.
After a gang war, hundreds of inmates are put into total segregation, known as solitary confinement. It is being utilized much more often 80,000 now are being held that way. While only 4 percent of the total might seem like a small number, the effects of solitary almost always are devastating. Solitary one hour each day of physical exercise, by themselves, heavily guarded and 23 hours per day alone. No TV, no speaking, even to guards, no nothing! The majority of those held in solitary for extended periods come out crazed paranoid, schizophrenic or manic-depressive. Those that were crazed when they went in, come out even more so.
Those who are placed in solitary find that the single event they can control is injuring themselves this will get them some personal attention, perhaps a stay in a bed in a prison hospital ward. Those in solitary for three or more years have a 70 percent suicide rate.
The basic problems in our prison system have existed for decades. These have been studied by prison officials, social scientists, politicians and inmates. A few experiments proved successful, but most of the problems continue and are exacerbated by overcrowding.
As a result, after arguments before a California Federal District Court, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court, there was a definitive ruling on May 23.
The state of California has been ordered to reduce inmates to a level of 135.7 percent of design capacity. This requires the release of lease 37,000 prisoners. It was another damnable 5-4 decision, which might be changed after a new president or two.
In the meantime, California and likely several more states in the next year or two must figure out what to do with thousands of felons.