warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

More Than Overcrowding: A Deeper Look At The Problem With Prisons

Sara Newman, Lorelei Christie, Matthew Tinoco, Hannah Madans, Meng Meng, Sophia Li, Minerva Ruelas |
April 19, 2014 | 11:54 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporters

Prison reform package (Didi Beck/Neon Tommy)
Prison reform package (Didi Beck/Neon Tommy)

Prison reform, it’s one of the oldest ideas out there—when something doesn’t work, fix it. 

Since 2011, Calif. has been in trouble with the law for overcrowding in prisons. Various plans have been proposed, with some people pushing to move prisoners into privatized prisons and some pushing to move them out of the state altogether. 

With approximately $45,006 of taxpayer dollars spent annually on each inmate, clearly action needs to be taken to reduce the number inmates altogether, not just to relocate prisoners. Furthermore, by focusing efforts on how the numbers game, many long-standing issues remain untouched. 

While overcrowding is a serious issue, responsible for the death of at least one inmate per week, comprehensive prison reform needs to address even the issues that aren’t in news on a daily basis. 

There isn’t a single incarceration formula that fits all prisoners. People suffering from drug addiction, mental illness and familial burdens may need specific programs to make their rehabilitation most effective. 

Beyond the specific accommodations needed to make prison sentences constructive, rather than just punitive, specific practices within the prison system need to be addressed as well. Prison reform needs to look at the morality of prison laborunpunished sexual assault in prison and death row.

 

 

An all-female chain gang at Estrella Jail in Maricopa County, AZ, prepares to leave for the day's worksite (Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency)
An all-female chain gang at Estrella Jail in Maricopa County, AZ, prepares to leave for the day's worksite (Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency)
Prison Labor: Exploitation Or Rehabilitation?

To this day, we punish those we’ve deemed criminals with prison sentences, which often entail coercive labor. Some argue that prison labor is the new incarnation of slavery, while others argue that it is a productive form of rehabilitation. Two former prisoners look back on their time performing prison labor. 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the hardest parts about prison for many mothers is the separation from their children. (Flickr / TheGiantVermin)
One of the hardest parts about prison for many mothers is the separation from their children. (Flickr / TheGiantVermin)

Mothers In Prison: Who Really Gets Hurt 

Incarcerated mothers can lose contact with kids or lose parental rights entirely. Although Harriette Davis was able to leave her children with her sister while she served her prison sentence, some mothers are unable to find viable caretakers. If prisoners do not have any family members approved to serve as their children’s guardians—and even having someone with a previous record in the same house as a caretaker could disqualify them— the children could be placed into foster care.

 

 

 

 

American prisoners face high rates of sexual abuse. (Sean Hobson/Creative Coommons)
American prisoners face high rates of sexual abuse. (Sean Hobson/Creative Coommons)
Sexual Abuse Behind Bars: Why Nobody Listens

Every year, more than 80,000 people are raped behind bars in American jails and prisons. This  staggering number is indicative of a tremendous amount of pain and suffering for the thousands of men and women trapped in an environment that has been described as “a sexual jungle,” where the predators are both in jumpsuits and in uniforms. For thousands of inmates, the promise of protection from guards rings hollow.

 

 

 

 

The death penalty has been inspiring more than just fear (Twitpic/RT America)
The death penalty has been inspiring more than just fear (Twitpic/RT America)
California Death Penalty Initiative To Speed Up Execution Process

The new ballot initiative would shorten death row cases to a five-year court deadline for appeals. Currently it takes 20 to 25 years to get a death penalty appeal heard for most cases, making capital punishment a costly and tedious process. 

 

 

 

 

James Puntar, an IRN member, now lives in San Pedro (Meng Meng/ Neon Tommy)
James Puntar, an IRN member, now lives in San Pedro (Meng Meng/ Neon Tommy)
Mental Illness: The Challenge Of The Revolving Door

American jails have become de facto mental institutions. Untreated patients often wind up on streets where they latch onto drugs to escape the harsh reality of lives on the street and scant resources. While mainstream professionals hold onto the doctrine of using psychiatric pills to control deviant behaviors, the Integrated Recovery Network utilizes multi-faceted teams to try answering one main question: what does a patient want?  

 

 

 

 

 

Laws and courts may be changing (Creative Commons)
Laws and courts may be changing (Creative Commons)

Drug Courts Shown To Reduce Crime, Rehabilitate Offenders

Drug courts have more positive affects, however, than simply getting offenders clean and out of jail. Drug courts are also credited with making it easier for people to find jobs, keeping familiesby reducing the number of children in foster care, saving money and drastically reducing overcrowding.

 

 

 

 

 


Contact Senior News Editor Sara Newman here. Follow her on Twitter.  



 

Buzz

Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.