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April 1, 2019

Seeing deeply discouraging and engagingly encouraging prison realities in incarceration nation

Two very different perspective on two prisons were covered by major media outlets over the weekend.  Here are links and snippets from the pieces:

From the New York Times, "Inside America’s Black Box: A Rare Look at the Violence of Incarceration":

Prisons are the black boxes of our society. With their vast complexes and razor wire barriers, everyone knows where they are, but few know what goes on inside.  Prisoner communication is sharply curtailed — it is monitored, censored and costly. Visitation rules are strict.  Office inspections are often announced in advance.

So when prisoners go on hunger strikes or work strikes, or engage in deadly riots, the public rarely understands exactly why.  How could they?  Many people harbor a vague belief that whatever treatment prisoners get, they surely must deserve.  It is a view perpetuated by a lack of detail.

But some weeks ago, The New York Times received more than 2,000 photographs that evidence suggests were taken inside the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Alabama.  Some show inmates as they are being treated in a cramped, cluttered examination room.  Others are clinical: frontal portraits, close-ups of wounds.

It is hard to imagine a cache of images less suitable for publication — they are full of nudity, indignity and gore.  It is also hard to imagine photographs that cry out more insistently to be seen.  As I scrolled through them, shock rose from my gut to my sternum.  Was I looking at a prison, or a 19th-century battlefield?

From 60 Minutes, "German-style program at a Connecticut maximum security prison emphasizes rehab for inmates":

One of the more radical attempts at prison reform is taking place in a foreboding Connecticut prison nicknamed the Rock.  It's a two year old program based on therapy for 18-25 year old prisoners, whose brains, science shows, are still developing, and their behavior more likely to change.  The idea came from Germany where the main objective of prison is rehabilitation and where the recidivism rate is about half that of the U.S.  We were in Germany four years ago when then Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy toured the prison system.  He returned home inspired and launched the small, German style program at the Rock.  It's too early to tell whether it will reduce recidivism but we wanted to see how the German approach is being tested in America.  So, we went to Connecticut by way of a slight detour to the northeast corner of Maine.

The University of Maine at Presque Isle is small in the world of college basketball. But for number 10, Shyquinn Dix, being a student-athlete here is the biggest shot of his life....  When we first met him a year ago, Presque Isle number 10 was inmate number 391175 serving a four-year sentence for felony check fraud at Cheshire Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in central Connecticut that houses about 1,300 prisoners....

Warden Erfe [following instructions from Malloy] closed down a solitary confinement wing and opened up a sanctuary for self-improvement for about 50 young inmates, whose crimes range from drugs to violent assault.  They have to apply to get into the program called T.R.U.E., for truthful, respectful, understanding and elevating to success....

For more than 100 years the rock has been a hard place.  The T.R.U.E. unit hopes to prove a softer touch can yield better results.  Officer James Vassar convinced coach Dan Kane at Presque Isle to take a shot on a prison inmate.  Now Shyquinn Dix is a big man on campus and the pride of the T.R.U.E. unit.  His jersey hangs on the wall.  A month after leaving, he was back at Cheshire.  Not as a repeat offender, but an inspiration.

April 1, 2019 at 10:23 PM | Permalink


"Many people harbor a vague belief that whatever treatment prisoners get, they surely must deserve. It is a view perpetuated by a lack of detail." This is so true!

The Innocence Project would and has sure put light on this problem.

Why isn't there a board of released innocent inmates to guide the Judicial System? They could use the job and the money more then the fat cats (attorney's) that are preying on the ignorant and poor. My parents always said that they do not trust most Actors or politicians, used car salesmen and lawyers. They were right!

Posted by: LC in Texas | Apr 2, 2019 5:32:26 PM

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