‘Negative’ Prison Culture Puts Communities at Risk, Report Warns

Prisons that foster a “culture of negativity” for both inmates and correctional workers make our communities less safe, according to a review of a February prison riot in Delaware. The review, led by a team from the Police Foundation, urges correctional authorities to recognize their “core” role in preventing recidivism.

Prisons that foster a “culture of negativity” for both inmates and correctional workers make our communities less safe, warns a study of a Delaware prison revolt that took the life of a correctional officer earlier this year.

The report, an analysis conducted by the Police Foundation of the February 2017 hostage-taking incident at Delaware’s James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, argued that corrections officials must take more seriously their “core” role in avoiding the high rates of recidivism that contribute to mass incarceration in the U.S.

By nurturing a culture that emphasizes “trust and legitimacy” inside prison walls, correctional authorities can ensure that inmates won’t carry their resentment and bitterness with them when they return to civilian life—and reoffend, the report said.

“It is important for correctional executives and correctional officers to recognize that most incarcerated individuals will, at some point, be released from institutional confinement and free to re-enter society,” said the report, noting that roughly 600,000 to 700,000 individuals are released from state prisons annually.

The report warned that “adversarial” and hostile prison environments not only make such facilities more dangerous places to work “but also make communities less safe once offenders subjected to these conditions are released.”

Editor’s Note: A 30-state study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics based on data collected between 2005 and 2010 found that two-thirds of released prisoners were re-arrested within three years, and three-quarters within five years. The study was released in 2014.

Instead, the report continued, corrections authorities should create an environment in which disputes are handled fairly and transparently—applying what many criminologists call “procedural justice.”

Sgt. Steven Floyd. Photo courtesy American Police Beat

The report was commissioned by Delaware Gov. John C. Carney after inmates at the Vaughn prison took workers hostage on February 1 in an 18-hour siege that left one corrections officer, Sgt. Steven Floyd, dead and several other workers and inmates injured. It was the second incident of inmate unrest at the facility in less than a month.

An independent review of the hostage-taking was conducted by a team from the Police Foundation, a think tank founded in 1970 to support innovative practices in policing. The review was led by retired Delaware Family Court Judge William L. Chapman, Jr. and former U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly, III.

Gov. John C. Carney. Photo by Delaware Department of Agriculture via Flickr

The team issued a preliminary report in June. The final report was released September 1.

In his response to the final report, Gov. Carney acknowledged that “we have systemic issues within our correctional system that must be addressed, and we are committed to addressing them.”

The 54-page final report contained dozens of recommendations for specific improvements in training and staffing for corrections workers and in the operations of the Delaware Department of Corrections—as well as a sweeping indictment of the correctional “culture” of the Delaware facility.

In the years leading up to the incident, the Vaughn state prison was characterized by an “institutionalized culture of negativity…in which administration executives, correctional officers, support staff, and inmates view one another as adversaries,” the report said.

Photo courtesy Delaware Department of Corrections

In a scathing assessment, the report linked inmate unrest to “adverse working conditions for correctional officers…inconsistently implemented rules and regulations, an inmate grievance procedure deemed unfair, a distrusted medical/mental health system, and a real lack of morale permeating the line officers.”

But the report also made clear that changes in specific policies, such as higher pay and better training for correctional workers and greater access to educational programs for inmates, must be accompanied by a focus on transforming the prison environment.

It urged adopting “procedural justice as the guiding principle” in the interactions between corrections administrators and staff, and between correctional staff and inmates.

“Correctional officers, much like law enforcement officers, have to strike a delicate balance between the enforcement of rules and their guardianship over inmates in order to ensure all around safe operations,” the report said.

“(But) it is important they ensure inmates are protected from undue harm and are being treated fairly and equitably.”

The authors of the report cited a warning by the 2015 President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing that if new rules and policies conflicted with the “existing culture” of law enforcement organizations, “behavior will not change.”

“This lesson is directly applicable to correctional organizations,” the report said.

A full copy of the report is available here.

This summary was prepared by TCR executive editor Stephen Handelman. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Texas Ends Solitary Confinement for Rule-Breaking

“When reviewing solitary confinement as a policy and practice we determined that as a department we can effectively operate without it,” said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark. The state had only 76 inmates in punitive solitary confinement as of July 31.

Texas prisons have ended the use of solitary confinement for breaking rules, the Houston Chronicle reports. “When reviewing solitary confinement as a policy and practice we determined that as a department we can effectively operate without it,” said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark. The change took place Sept. 1.
The more commonly used administrative segregation – non-punitive isolation due to perceived security risks or danger to others – is still used, though its prevalence has plummeted over the past decade.

“Restrictive housing has been a topic of discussion across the nation for a number of years and as an agency over the last several we’re really looked at ways to reduce it and in such a way that a priority is placed on safety and security,” Clark said. As July 31, Texas prisons had only 76 inmates in punitive solitary confinement. Now, they’ll rely on other restrictions – such as loss of good time or loss of commissary and phone privileges – to control bad behavior. “There’s never been any factors that show that [solitary confinement] positively rehabilitates the individual,” said Lance Lowry, who heads the Texas Correctional Employees union. The shift won’t affect the nearly 4,000 prisoners in administrative segregation due to gang affiliation, risk of escape, or other evidence of ongoing danger to staff or fellow inmates. “You still need security detention because the Hannibal Lecters of the world are still out there,” Lowry said. “There’s still some bad actors in prison that will hurt people.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

WA Sues GEO for Paying Detainees $1 Per Day

The suit accuses GEO of violating state minimum-wage law by paying detainees $1 a day — or sometimes just chips and candy — to work at the nation’s fourth-largest detention center. The company calls what it is doing a “voluntary work program.”

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is taking on the GEO Group, the multibillion-dollar corporation that runs the fourth-largest U.S. detention center, located in Tacoma, the Seattle Times reports. Ferguson sued the company, which operates the Northwest Detention Center and 140 other such facilities nationwide. The suit accuses GEO of violating state minimum-wage law by paying detainees $1 a day — or sometimes just chips and candy — to work at the detention center. “Let’s be honest about what’s going on,” said Ferguson. “GEO has a captive population of vulnerable individuals who cannot easily advocate for themselves. This corporation is exploiting those workers for their own profits.”

GEO projected in 2015 that its Tacoma facility would take in $57 million in revenues annually at full capacity, around 1,575 people. The company earned more than $2 billion in 2016. The Florida-based company uses detainee labor to perform virtually all work at the detention center besides security, says Ferguson. That includes preparing meals, doing laundry and cleaning common areas and restrooms. GEO denied “the baseless and meritless allegations made in this lawsuit,” calling detainee labor a “voluntary work program.” GEO said its wage rates follow standards set “exclusively” by the federal government. That might mean that GEO plans to challenge the state’s authority. Washington’s minimum wage is $11 an hour. Ferguson said the Northwest Detention Center is not a criminal correctional facility; detainees held there are going through civil immigration proceedings.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Drug Cases Behind OK’s Female Incarceration Record

Oklahoma, which for 25 years has led the nation in locking up women, imprisons 151 out of every 100,000 women, more than double the national rate. In Tulsa County, women’s sentences for some drug crimes decreased over the past seven years. An intensive program funded by oil billionaire George Kaiser’s foundation works to provide alternatives to prison for women facing long sentences.

More than 3,000 women are serving time in Oklahoma, which for 25 years has led the nation in locking up women. The state imprisons 151 out of every 100,000 women, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics – more than double the national rate. The Frontier and Reveal, of the Center for Investigative Reporting, spent more than a year unearthing the causes. The reporting included obtaining a decade’s worth of state prison data never before analyzed by the state itself. The most common reason women end up in prison is drug possession. Oklahoma dealt out ever-longer sentences for these women, even as other conservative states reduced drug sentences as part of criminal justice system overhauls.

In Tulsa County, women’s sentences for some drug crimes decreased over the past seven years. That’s where an intensive program funded by oil billionaire George Kaiser’s foundation works to provide alternatives to prison for women facing long sentences for drug offenses and other crimes. The burden of the state’s high incarceration rate falls hardest on women of color. Black women are incarcerated at about twice the rate of their representation in the state’s adult population. For Native American women, the disparity is almost three times their share of the population. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin called the state’s No. 1 ranking “a dubious honor … not something I’m proud of.” State voters got tired of waiting for lawmakers to act and passed reforms that became effective in July making possession of drugs for personal use a misdemeanor. It’s unclear how deeply the state understands the problem, because it took a year and a half for Reveal to obtain a workable database to analyze.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Fallin Lauds OK Voter Criminal Justice Initiatives

Gov. Mary Fallin touts two measures approved by Oklahoma voters last year. One made certain low-level crimes misdemeanors rather than felonies, including simple drug possession and theft of items valued at less than $1,000. The other aims to use money saved by incarcerating fewer people to help fund drug treatment and mental health programs.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, discussing criminal justice reform at an event on incarcerated women, said “The more we talk about this as a nation, the more we can help change the laws and change legislation,” The Oklahoman reports. Fallin’s spoke at “Defining Justice,” moderated by The Atlantic’s Alison Stewart. Oklahoma has 61,000 people in its prison system, including more than 26,000 held in state facilities and private prisons, about 1,600 awaiting transfer from county jails and another 33,000 on some form of probation, parole, community sentencing or GPS monitoring. The state’s prison population, at 109 percent of capacity, is 78 percent higher than the national average, and is expected to grow by 25 percent in the next decade without major reforms.

That could cost the state an additional $2 billion. Meanwhile, state mental health officials say it costs $2,000 a year, on average, per person for outpatient mental health and substance abuse services, compared to more intensive programs, such as drug court, which costs about $5,000 a year per person. By comparison, it costs about $19,000 a year to hold someone in prison.  Fallin lauded Oklahomans for moving the criminal justice discussion beyond mere tough-on-crime talk and into ideas on how to more wisely use taxpayer dollars while keeping violent offenders off the street. Last November, voters passed two ballot initiatives designed to reduce prison overcrowding. One made certain low-level crimes misdemeanors rather than felonies, including simple drug possession and theft of items valued at less than $1,000. The other aims to use money saved by incarcerating fewer people to help fund drug treatment and mental health programs. Those reforms may clash with federal policy. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled a return to increased drug prosecutions and prolonged sentences for low-level offenders. “I need to have a discussion with him,” Fallin said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Inmate Population Up, CO Seeks to Lease Private Prison

Critics say the state needs to look for options rather than pour money into more prison beds.  They are especially concerned about a plan to put general-population prisoners in Centennial Correctional Facility-South, a prison designed for solitary confinement, whose construction has been called a boondoggle.

The Colorado Department of Corrections is asking for $11 million to lease a private prison while it attempts to reopen a closed prison in Cañon City, the Denver Post reports. .  The department’s supplementary budget request shows it wants $10.9 million to open a 250-bed private prison because of unexpected increase in the number of people being sent to prison. Critics say the state needs to look for options rather than pour money into more prison beds.  They are especially concerned about the department’s plan to put general-population prisoners in Centennial Correctional Facility-South, a prison designed for solitary confinement.

The department would use the private prison while a $636,000 recreation yard is under construction at Centennial South. Federal law requires general-population prisons to provide recreational options for inmates, and the project would meet that criteria. State law forbids the corrections department from housing prisoners at Centennial South, so it would need the legislature to change that. Christie Donner of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition said Colorado needs to study what is driving a rising inmate population and devise alternatives to sending more and more people to prison. “The historical approach of going back to get more money from the taxpayers to open another facility should not be the only option on the table,” she said.  Centennial South is widely considered a boondoggle. The prison, constructed after the state borrowed $208 million, opened in 2010 and was closed two years later. Taxpayers are still paying the construction bill.

from https://thecrimereport.org

OK Grapples with High Female Incarceration Rate

Oklahoma leads the nation in female incarceration – at a rate more than twice the national average. On Wednesday, legislators, activists and academics will explore how to reduce the rate in a livestreamed conference hosted by The Atlantic magazine in collaboration with Reveal, of California’s Center for Investigative Reporting.

The stories behind Oklahoma’s disproportionately high female incarceration rate are the subject of an upcoming investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and a forum in Oklahoma City that will explore the experiences of women in the state’s justice system.

On Wednesday, September 20, The Atlantic will host Defining Justice: The Experience of Women and Children Behind Bars in collaboration with Reveal. Journalists from Reveal, including senior editor Ziva Branstetter, will discuss our upcoming investigation and data analysis examining the roots of the problem.

Defining Justice will confront key questions surrounding women in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system: Why is the women’s incarceration rate in Oklahoma so high? What are the long-term human costs to women and children affected by the justice system? And what solutions would create a criminal justice system more responsive to women?

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin will join the program for a one-on-one discussion on the political path toward criminal justice reform in Oklahoma, moderated by The Atlantic’s contributing editor Alison Stewart.

Stewart and Branstetter will moderate discussions throughout the day, along with Allison Herrera, a reporter and social media editor at Public Radio International; and David Fritze, executive editor of Oklahoma Watch. Herrera and The Frontier, an Oklahoma-based news website, partnered with Branstetter on Reveal’s investigation.

Speakers include policymakers, advocates, justice experts, journalists and women who have been incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons. Among the experts taking part in the discussions are Sheila Harbert, chief community outreach officer for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma; and Mimi Tarrasch, executive director of Women in Recovery.

Also scheduled to speak are: Kris Steele, executive director of The Education and Employment Ministry and former speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives; and Susan Sharp, presidential professor emerita at the University of Oklahoma and author of “Mean Lives, Mean Laws: Oklahoma’s Women Prisoners.”

“Defining Justice” is the first in a series of three events by The Atlantic examining aspects of the American criminal justice system and how they affect women and children in cities across the country. TheAtlantic.com is running an ongoing digital reporting series, The Presence of Justice, which focuses on efforts across the nation to move beyond the age of mass incarceration.

Reveal will release its investigation into Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate on our website, podcast and radio show with PRX later this month. Sign up for our newsletter to get the story sent straight to your inbox.

Defining Justice will be recorded and streamed live online by The Atlantic. You can follow the discussion on social media using the hashtag #DefiningJustice.

TCR is pleased to republish this article, produced by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a California-based nonprofit news organization. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New PA Prison To Open Two Years Late

The $400 million Phoenix prison will be a dramatic upgrade over the old Graterford prison, built in 1929. It could save the slate $48 million annually in operating costs.

Stony Graterford state prison, one of the nation’s largest with an inmate population bigger than most Pennsylvania municipalities, and its $400 million replacement, the State Correctional Institution at Phoenix, stand side-by-side on a three-square-mile plot an hour northwest of Philadelphia. Phoenix will be a dramatic upgrade over Graterford, built in 1929, reports Philly.com. Its sand-colored blocks will have remote-controlled zone heating and cooling; no more of Graterford’s notoriously sweaty summers when, as a corrections officer said, “you peel your clothing off at the end of the day.” It will have electronic locks, instead of Graterford’s hand-sized keys, two gyms instead of one, and dozens of classrooms instead of a few.

It also will be less expensive to operate. It cost $123 a day, the state Department of Corrections, to house an inmate at Graterford in 2016, up from $114 the year before. Newer prisons cost as little as $90. That could be about a $48 million difference annually. John Wetzel, Pennsylvania secretary of corrections,  hopes the cost at Phoenix will be less. When the prison was proposed a decade ago, Pennsylvania’s prisoner count was approaching 50,000 and expected to continue rising. In recent years the inmate population has dropped, and the state has been closing older prisons. The state spends $2 billion a year to operate 25 prisons with more than 47,000 inmates. Two years behind schedule, Phoenix finally is due to open next summer.  In a profession that relies on knowing one’s surroundings inside and out, the disruption to routine outweighs excitement over “going from a ’72 Pinto to getting a new Cadillac,” said Jason Bloom of the corrections officers union. Officers are concerned about unresolved issues over staffing levels.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Iowa Mulls Closing ‘Porn Reading Rooms’ in Prisons

Prisoners in the state have had legally mandated access to sexually explicit reading materials in designated rooms since 1988. Officials are now considering a 2018 legislative proposal to ban the use of state funds for such purposes.

Iowa’s prisons would shut down so-called “pornography reading rooms” used by inmates under proposed legislation being studied by state officials, reports the Des Moines Register. Iowa prisoners have legally had access to sexually explicit reading materials in designated rooms for nearly three decades since the late Chief U.S. District Judge Harold Vietor upheld findings in 1988 that the state’s prison rules on pornography were unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The legislative change would adopt a policy used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said Cord Overton, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Corrections. The proposed change was shared last week with the Iowa Board of Corrections for consideration in the 2018 session of the Iowa Legislature, and prison officials believe it would be acceptable to the federal courts, he said.

“The current policy on these materials does not align with the department’s commitment to creating and maintaining a culture of rehabilitation for all incarcerated individuals,” Overton said. The proposed legislation says no funds appropriated or made available to the state Department of Corrections could be used to distribute or make available any commercially published information or material to an inmate “when such information or material is sexually explicit or features nudity.” The department would be allowed to adopt administrative rules to implement the changes.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Federal Inmates In TX, FL Suffer After Hurricanes

As extreme weather events like killer heat waves and hurricanes become more common, all levels of governments must develop common sense plans to protect those they lock up, say commentators Van Jones and Jessica Jackson Sloan.

Federal prisoners in Florida and Texas did not fare well after hurricanes Irma and Harvey struck, write Van Jones of Dream Corps and Jessica Jackson Sloan, mayor of Mill Valley, Ca., for CNN. While Texas and Florida authorities safely relocated most of the inmates in the state prisons, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons did not follow suit. As a result, some incarcerated people in the hardest hit areas in federal prisons were left in their cells to face the flooding, water shortages and power outages. If reports from family members are accurate, their living conditions violated the constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual” punishment, say Jones and Sloan. In stark contrast, zoos were cleared, hundreds of Florida horses were relocated, and dolphins were airlifted to safety.

As extreme weather events like killer heat waves and hurricanes become more common, all levels of governments must develop common sense plans to protect those they lock up, say Jones and Sloan. At the federal prison in Beaumont, Tx., prisoners told family members they were stuck in their cells as water rose above their ankles and the smell of sewage from backed-up toilets grew so intense they had to wrap towels over their noses to fall asleep. Federal prison officials dispute claims of water in cells. The Prison Legal Advocacy Network says Beaumont prisoners continue to suffer from inadequate food and water supplies. Inmates are urinating and defecating in plastic bags to preserve the water in their cell’s toilet for drinking. Some prisoners told family members they have been unable to receive medication, despite officials’ assurances that inmates are getting 24-hour-a-day access to medical coverage. No journalists or outside observers have been allowed to see the conditions of the prison and the inmates.

from https://thecrimereport.org