Why the police want prison reform

“We need less incarceration, not more, to keep all Americans safe.”

Criminal justice reform groups have been saying this for years. This time the source is unexpected: More than 130 of the nation’s top law-enforcement officials, including big-city police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and attorneys general, have joined the call to end to the harsh, counterproductive practices and policies that have driven America’s devastating prison boom, destroyed communities and written off an entire generation of young men of color.

More from The Opinion Pages, The New York Times

Drugs in prison: At Her Majesty’s pleasure

Spice is usually smoked with tobacco, which would be much harder to do if cigarettes were outlawed. The first prisons are due to go smoke-free next year, after a legal case was brought by a prisoner who objected to being held in a cell with a smoker. Prison governors have warned that such a ban could provoke rioting among the 80% of prisoners who smoke.

This hints at a deeper problem: some of the harsh measures that might limit drug-taking, like keeping prisoners in their cells, restricting visits and stepping up searches, could also hinder rehabilitation. Indeed, it is the increase in this sort of thing in prisons, along with longer sentences, says Mr Cavendish, that leads inmates to take drugs and “get their head out the window” in the first place, despite the health risks and possible punishments. Criminals, after all, tend to be good at finding a way around the rules.

More at The Economist

Reintegration is a trope

To have successful reintegration, one must first be rehabilitated from the processes that led to the alienation from society in the first place. Without rehabilitation, one is place back in roughly the same circumstances as they were in before they were imprisoned and expected to behave differently. Insanity has been characterized as doing the same thing over and over while always expecting different results. Since rehabilitation is currently a lie at best, the expectation of reintegration can realistically be defined as insane or at least a trope, which is defined as language used in a figurative or non-literal sense.

More at Reintegration is a trope

The prison crisis in the UK

During his three years behind bars, Alex Cavendish learned many things. He learned, for example, that serving a cold sandwich instead of a cooked meal can be dangerous – food is one of the things that keep prisoners going, and disruption of that routine leads to frustration: ‘I’ve been in a prison where there was a riot as a consequence of a meal being cancelled’, says Cavendish, who has gone through six different penal institutions across England and Wales and worked as a mentor for other prisoners. He has learned about the problem of indebtedness in prisons (‘If you think payday loans are bad, go borrow off another inmate…’), about bullying, violence and sexual abuse. And he has seen how the state of prisons has gone from bad to critical.

Peter Stauber in Counter Punch

When Pussy Riot met UK penal reformers

… conversations also revealed some perhaps surprising ways in which the Russian system has perhaps got it more right than the UK. In Russia, for example, women are permitted conjugal visits and open visits with their children. Conjugal visits are not allowed in UK prisons. They also have an email system which prisoners can use, whereas prisoners in the UK have no access to email and have to rely on the phone. Many prisoners in the UK are finding this increasingly difficult in a system where staff shortages mean that prisoners are locked up in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

Harriet Lowe at Penal Reform International

How peer educators are improving health and conditions in irish prisons

… the volunteer explained that before it began, he had thought his life was over. Serving a life sentence and with nothing to lose, he had given up, taking drugs and fighting the system from within the prison. Yet he was persuaded to become a volunteer and participated in a campaign to reduce violence inside the prison. This resulted in an amnesty for weapons, which was extremely successful. Before the campaign, home-made weapons were used in 97% of assaults, a figure that was substantially reduced as a result of the campaign which resulted in many weapons being handed in anonymously. It was followed up with a further campaign to develop peaceful ways to deal with anger, fear, stress and stereotyping. This directly helped prisoners manage stress better, and staff and families could see the benefit for themselves.

Allison Hannah at Penal Reform International

The evolving reform efforts of L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey

In the closing weeks of the long and contentious 2012 campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney, Jackie Lacey fielded questions at a South L.A. church filled with activists and organizers who were advocating near-revolutionary changes in the criminal justice system. They asked the candidate: What would she do to make sure fewer people go to prison? Didn’t she agree that drug use and possession should be decriminalized? How quickly would she overhaul the bail system to make sure the poor are treated the same as the rich while awaiting trial? Would she ensure that mentally ill offenders get community-based treatment instead of jail? Would she demand so-called split sentences, under which convicted felons spend only part of their terms in jail, the other part on parole-like supervision?

More, from The Los Angeles Times

Sacramento’s prison deal

Some of the problems to be solved are exasperatingly basic. For example, before they can successfully deal with recidivism, there needs to be general acceptance by everyone in the criminal justice system about what that word means. Do they count only convictions for crimes committed within the first year of release? The first three years? Do they count only convictions that can get the offender sent back to prison, or do they also count those that can result in a short jail stint? Do they count violations of probation that are not crimes? Without such a definition, they will never be able to accurately measure the outcome of any alternative sentencing program, fund the good ones or jettison the bad ones.

More, from The Los Angeles Times

Eric Holder unveils new reforms aimed at curbing US prison population

Since Richard Nixon declared the “war on drugs” in 1971, US prison numbers have soared to account for 25% of all the world’s prisoners even though it has only 5% of the world’s population. Drug-related offences drive the vast majority of this, and people convicted of conspiring to sell 5kg of cocaine will currently receive a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence.

More from Dan Roberts and Karen McVeigh at The Guardian

Making prison work better

The number of offenders in Irish prisons has increased sharply in recent years, even though the crime rate has fallen, down 13 per cent since 2008. By 2011,the prison population had risen by one third in four years. And, as the average annual cost of each prison place is estimated at €65,359, both the cost of detention and the effectiveness of the prison system, either in deterring crime or in rehabilitating offenders, has been questioned.The Oireachtas Committee on Justice in its report on penal reform now favours a radical change of approach. It has asked the Government to commit to a one third reduction in prison numbers over the next ten years.That will save money and – if the committee’s recommendations are fully implemented – should result both in a better prison service, and a safer society. While past decades have seen a succession of reports on various aspects of prison and penal reform, little fundamental change has occurred in this area.

More, from The Irish Times