How to Fix Our Prisons? Let the Public Inside
New York Times: Opinion by Neil Barsky
Dec 17, 2019
Decades after the prison population began its growth surge, criminal justice reform has finally moved into the national conversation.
Last December, President Trump signed the First Step Act, reducing federal prison sentences. Democratic presidential candidates are proposing far-reaching reforms on bail, sentencing, punishments for drug-related crimes and voting rights for incarcerated Americans. New York City is set to close its notorious jail complex on Rikers Island. And Philadelphia, Chicago and other major cities have elected progressive district attorneys.
Unfortunately, what happens inside the walls of the nation’s prisons has not changed at all. They can be stifling in summer and freezing in winter. The residents are often belittled, abused and cut off from anything resembling rehabilitation. Constitutional protections are virtually nonexistent; solitary confinement, to pick one example, is considered torture by much of the world, but is business as usual inside America’s state and federal jails and prisons, home to roughly 2.1 million people.
Here is what the next president, or President Trump, can do to reform mass incarceration: Open up this hidden world to the public. I call my proposal “Let Us In.”
Local prison inmates graduate college
Eyewitness News Bakersfield CA by Jessica Shotorbani
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — The California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi held it's first ever college graduation for inmates today. Seventeen inmates walked across the stage in hopes of new beginnings.
The college program has become extremely popular since it started in 2017 with more inmates joining every day.
“It’s the beginning of a new life and it’s probably got to be the biggest accomplishment so far," said graduate Guillermo Hartman.
Hartman has been in and out of prison from the past 32 years and today he said this sentence will be his last.
“I’m finishing up a ten-year term right now and I can actually say that I have hope and a foundation compared to every other time I got released from prison. This program has totally opened my mind and let me know I’m worth being a successful member of society," reflects Hartman.
Illinois Prison Removes More Than 200 Books From Prison Library
Illinois Newsroom by Lee V. Gaines
May 29, 2019
When she found out that staff at the Danville Correctional Center had removed more than 200 books from a library inside the prison’s education wing, Rebecca Ginsburg said she felt a pit in her stomach.
“I felt sick,” she said. Ginsburg directs the Education Justice Project, a college in prison program that offers University of Illinois classes to men incarcerated at the Danville prison in east-central Illinois. In late January, prison staff removed dozens of titles from two rooms that serve as the program’s library.
Those titles include books like “Visiting Day,” a children’s book about visiting a parent in prison by author, Jacqueline Woodson. Also included among the removed books are two titles written by African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., a book by philosopher Cornel West, “Up From Slavery” by Booker T. Washington, and “Mapping Your Future: A Guide to Successful Reentry 2017-2018” written by the college in prison program’s reentry team.
The Feminist in Cellblock Y
Richard Edmond Vargas, also known as "Richie Reseda" is a convicted felon who has been serving time in an all-male prison in Soledad, California, for armed robbery since he was a teen. "The Feminist on Cellblock Y," a documentary produced by filmmaker Contessa Gayles, follows the now 25-year-old Reseda and his fellow prison mates as they participate in an inmate rehabilitation program centered around feminist literature.
It's said in the documentary, "a lot of them come out even worse than they were before," referring to the inmates. In order to counter that particular manifestation, these men spend their days learning about the patriarchy, discovering the power of vulnerability, and personally combating toxic masculinity. Additionally, the program encourages the men to confront all of the areas where these toxic ideals of masculinity have prevailed in their lives. "We cannot challenge our harmful behavior without challenging patriarchy," Reseda says in the film.
The Study Group Bringing bell hooks to Prisons
Next City by Emily Nonko
In a bare, brightly lit classroom inside the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, California, Richie ‘Reseda’ Edmond-Vargas taught one of his last lessons on patriarchy and toxic masculinity to a group of men who, like him, were incarcerated there. Several years after developing this curriculum, Edmond-Vargas was preparing to transfer to one last facility before ultimately returning to society.
On long sheets of brown paper he broke down tenets of toxic masculinity, asking men to consider the payoffs and costs of buying into values like violence, objectifying women and having money. Men threw out suggestions relating to the costs: bad relationships, loneliness, life in prison.
“We’re all pretty clear on the problem,” Edmond-Vargas says, “What’s the solution?” In response, a facilitator with the group, also incarcerated, stood up to read a passage from bell hooks’ book on toxic masculinity, The Will to Change.
Opening Minds Behind Bars
NPR-IL by Dusty Rhodes
Ro’Derick Zavala grew up in Chicago at 21st and State Street — the northern tip of a four-mile corridor lined with 8,000 units of public housing. His mother worked three jobs, including one at Walgreens, where she would pick up the Disney and Hanna Barbera books that inspired Zavala to fall in love with reading at a young age.
That passion should’ve made him a successful student. But on Chicago’s south side, in the 1980s, it was hard to find a safe place to go to school.
“My mother was always trying to get me out of the neighborhood I grew up in, so we constantly moved a lot. I was never in a school longer than a year," he says. "So you take me from one neighborhood to another school … to her, the school seems like a better place to go. But there still is a neighborhood around it that I have to operate in. So I continued to get in trouble in school and get kicked out of school.
Test your knowledge of American Incarceration
The New York Times by Sahil Chinoy and Ask Ngu
December 21, 2018
The criminal justice reform bill known as the First Step Act, which President Trump signed into law on Friday, has been lauded as a sorely needed instance of bipartisan lawmaking. The law will reduce sentences for federal prisoners while seeking to balance public safety needs.
Here, you can check your knowledge of the American criminal justice system and how the First Step Act fits in.
Read More & take the test
Education Opportunities in Prison Are Key to Reducing Crime
Center for American Progress
Education can be a gateway to social and economic mobility. This vital opportunity, however, is currently being denied to a significant portion of the more than 2.3 million individuals currently incarcerated in the United States. Compared with 18 percent of the general population, approximately 41 percent of incarcerated individuals do not hold a high school diploma. Similarly, while 48 percent of general population has received any postsecondary or college education, only 24 percent of people in federal prisons have received the same level of education. In 2016, the Vera Institute of Justice reported that only 35 percent of state prisons provide college-level courses, and these programs only serve 6 percent of incarcerated individuals nationwide. In 2015, the Obama administration announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot program—an experimental program allowing 12,000 qualifying incarcerated students to take college-level courses while in prison. The future of this program is uncertain as Congress decides whether to include Pell Grants for prisons—which currently receives less than 1 percent of total Pell program funding—in their reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Receiving a quality education continues to be out of reach for much of the prison population due to a lack of funding for, and access to, the materials needed for the success of these programs.
I Can Be Free Again': How Music Brings Healing at Sing Sing
I've seen firsthand how music can restore what's missing in prison: a respect for humanity.
Pacific Standard by John J. Lennon
October 24, 2018
In Concert at Sing SingThe Sing Sing cellblocks are piles of brick and slabs of metal and steel and concrete, built on a hill of prime real estate overlooking the Hudson River. At four open tiers high, with two sides of 88 cells that stretch the length of two football fields, Cellblock A is the largest in the world, per the Sing Sing Prison Museum. Pipes snake along the wall hissing heat; cell radios tuned to Hot 97, New York City's hip-hop station, bump Nicki Minaj rapping about her privates being wetter than puddles; Bloods yell out roll calls ("Whoopti!" to responses of "Can't stop! Never stop!"), while the rest of us wait impatiently, screaming out cell numbers for corrections officers to open.
This Appalachian Nonprofit Puts Books in the Hands of Inmates Who Need Them
BuzzFeed by Sarah Baird
November 12, 2018
Today, prison libraries are hit-or-miss, more often falling on the “miss” side: frequently barebones, stacked with outdated textbooks, or littered with battered romance novels. Some prisons are even attempting to do away with libraries entirely, instead placing the burden on inmates to pay for e-books. In Pennsylvania, inmates have to pay for a $147 tablet in order to read books.
“The quality of the libraries is very uneven. People don’t have access to the books they really want to read, particularly if they’re on a specific subject. Some prisons try to do interlibrary loan, but it’s a very delayed service and, again, limited,” explains Katy Ryan, a professor at West Virginia University and cofounder of the Appalachian Prison Book Project.
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Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive