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Education of another mind

A fascinating new education project is underway in the United Kingdom’s infamous high-security Wakefield Prison. Known for housing those considered to be amongst England’s most violent offenders, the facility has recently started offering meditation classes to its inmates. “Mindfulness meditation” comes from the Buddhist tradition, and is being touted as a method for treating low-level

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Dehydration Death of North Carolina Prisoner Prompts Investigations, Firings, Resignations

A North Carolina prisoner with a history of mental illness who was found dead in a transport van after being transferred to another prison died due to dehydration, according to the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office.

However, the state pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Michael Anthony Kerr, 54, said records provided by the Department of Public Safety were so scanty and incomplete that she was unable to determine whether his death was accidental, a suicide or a homicide.

Prison records indicate that Kerr was held in solitary confinement for 35 days prior to his death and had spent the last five days of his life handcuffed and largely unresponsive. Prison officials repeatedly turned off the water to his cell because he had flooded it, and put him on a diet of milk and nutraloaf. The milk was later ordered withheld.

“They treated him like a dog,” said Kerr’s sister, Brenda Liles.

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Colorado Corrections Chief Spends The Night in Segregation

By Christopher Zoukis Rick Raemisch, Colorado’s new chief of the State Department of Corrections, decided that he wanted to better understand the experience of solitary confinement; so he decided to spend the night in segregation in one of the prisons he oversees. Raemisch had been on the job for seven months when he decided to

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Vipassana Meditation Courses For Correction Facilities

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

W.E. Donaldson Correctional Facility, Bessemer, Alabama has a harsh atmosphere and reputation for housing some of the most dangerous criminals in the country. Death row inmates, some with life sentences without the possibility of parole and others with a chance to be released and lead a new life are part of the W.E. Donaldson Correctional Facility (WEDCF) community, but, if one is to live a gratifying life, whether it is behind bars or outside prison walls, a serious attitude change needs to occur.

January 14 – 25, 2002 is the first day of a 10-day project at a U.S. state prison and the first time a U.S. maximum-security facility has the possibility of transforming every participant in the process. Twenty inmates with a variety of offenses ranging from robbery to drug-trafficking shuffle down the hallway to the gymnasium that is going to be a makeshift for a meditation retreat. Bed rolls in hand the inmates enter the gymnasium with apprehension about spending the next 10-days sitting on the floor and being silent. How could this possibly make a difference?

Prisoners don’t realize the luxury of being in a unique position that provides them an opportunity to escape reality for ten-days. Many people of the outside world would be ecstatic to trade their routine work week, traffic, and paying bills for a time-out vacation in a sea of stillness.

Vipassana meditation is a tool prisoners and anyone interested in reaching a mindful diligence that surpasses a hostile consciousness can use to cope with everyday life. The word Vipassana means “to see clearly.”

The meditation program taught by S.N. Goenka has been internationally adopted by prisons and has been successfully offered over the last 25 years within prisons located in India, Israel, Mongolia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand, U.K., and Myanmar. Vipassana was introduced to the U.S. penal system in 1997, but has only been accepted by three facilities; King County North Rehabilitation Facility, Seattle, Washington, San Francisco Jail Course, Jail #7, San Bruno, California, and W.E. Donaldson Correctional Facility, Bessemer, Alabama. The first Vipassana course in a North American correctional facility was conducted at the North Rehabilitation Facility (NRF) in Seattle, Washington in 1997.

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Hearing On Solitary Confinement in California Prisons

By Christopher Zoukis On February 11, 2014 the Public Safety Committees of the California legislature held their second hearing on the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) solitary confinement policies and practices. This hearing was prompted in part due to the massive, and historic, work strike and hunger strike of over 30,000 California state

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Recidivism and Prisons: A Culture of Failure

By Christopher Zoukis

The American criminal justice system is broken.  Wrongdoers go to prison, become hardened by the experience, only to be released and commit additional crimes, thus reentering the criminal justice system.  This cycle of crime, punishment, crime, and then back to punishment is often continual, and it is intergenerational, too.  According to the latest RAND Corporation/Correctional Education Association study, 43 percent of released prisoners will recidivate within 3 years of their release from prison.  While this is in line with several Pew Center on the States’ studies, the Bureau of Justice Statistics actually states that the 3 year recidivism rate is in the 50th percentile.  Something clearly needs to be done.

Prisons: The Warehousing of People

While there are many causes for such a high recidivism — or failure — rate, in my mind they all come down to one component: wrongdoers are going to prison and are not being transformed by the experience.  This is quite a sad statement considering that the American taxpayers spend tens of thousands of dollars per year to incarcerate each offender.  We are essentially paying for the state to house people in concrete and cinderblock rooms, wait the prescribed time, and then release them as the same people they were when they went in in the first place.  To call this ineffectual and simpleminded would be a gross understatement.

A Transformational Experience

What is needed is to manufacture a transformational experience for those Americans we incarcerate.  We need to come up with some way to change people, not merely warehouse them.  The research indicates that prison education, substance abuse and mental health treatment, as well as a structured reintegration plan, will make all the difference in the world.  Let’s take each in turn.

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Traumatic Brain Injury Rate High Among Prisoners

By Matt Clarke

Studies have shown that the prevalence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) among adult prisoners is more than seven times higher than among non-incarcerated adults.

Traumatic brain injury occurs when a person suffers a disruption of brain function due to an injury – such as an impact from an accident, playing sports or an assault. The most common form of TBI is a concussion.

Medical researchers have discovered that minor TBIs, previously believed to be inconsequential and transient, can result in lasting disabilities. They also discovered that the injuries caused by TBIs are cumulative, in that a series of minor TBIs can lead to major impairment.

Most people who suffer the most minor form of TBI, a concussion, will recover more or less fully within a year. For the 15% who do not, persistent symptoms may include headaches or increased irritability that interferes with everyday functioning.

Sometimes TBI results in behavioral issues that are a direct consequence of the impact that caused the injury. For example, in a vehicle accident or assault, the impact is often to the top front of the head just above the frontal lobes, which regulate behavior. Frontal lobe TBI also can be caused by the brain impacting the skull inside the head, such as during a sudden acceleration or deceleration. This type of injury can result even when the head is not hit directly.

Around 8.5% of the non-incarcerated adult population in the United States has suffered a traumatic brain injury; 2% currently suffer from some form of disability due to past TBI.

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A Different Kind of Justice

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Following the aftermath of the third media worthy shooting in Colorado, the time has arrived for shedding light onto positive news in Colorado.

According to the news media, the federal government is taking a more serious look at how mental illness is connected to violent crimes. Gun control news has accelerated. However, it is evident that stricter gun control laws are not the only answer to this festering problem.  

Colorado recently added their eighth mental illness pilot project to their judicial system. Currently, there are approximately 300 similar projects across the nation.

Leave it to Aspen, Colorado, the innovative ski resort town burrowed in the Rocky Mountains to launch a program designed for mentally ill offenders.

It is no surprise the glitzy town of Aspen would offer such a lavish solution to a problem narrowly addressed within the criminal justice system. Aspen locals have historically nick named the Aspen jail the “Club Med” of the correctional system.

The Wellness Program, generated earlier this year has evolved over the past several months.

The motive of the program is to provide appropriate sentencing alternatives for mentally ill offenders, sentencing alternatives which reduce recidivism rates.  

For people with mental illness, jail rarely is the proper place to get needed treatment, but that is often exactly the place where they repeatedly end up.

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Transgender Prisoner’s Lawsuit Sparks BOP Policy Change

By Derek Gilna

A lawsuit filed by a transgender federal prisoner in Massachusetts has resulted in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) making appropriate medical care available “to [prisoners] who believe they are the wrong gender,” according to a May 31, 2011 memo issued to all BOP wardens. Previous BOP policy limited treatment of transgender prisoners to medical care that maintained them “at the level of [gender] change which existed when they were incarcerated.”

The prisoner who filed suit, Vanessa Adams, whose legal name is Nicholas Adams, had been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in 2005 by medical professionals at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners (USMCFP) in Springfield, Missouri.
Adams sought declaratory and injunctive relief under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202.

Her lawsuit noted that GID is a “recognized diagnosable and treatable medical condition listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR).” Medically appropriate GID treatment options include providing patients with 1) hormones of the desired gender; 2) the “real life experience,” i.e. living full-time as the new gender; and 3) surgery to change the patient’s sex characteristics – often collectively referred to as “triadic therapy.”

According to her complaint, Adams “believed she was assigned the wrong gender,” which caused her “much emotional turmoil.” Those feelings intensified during her incarceration; she amputated her penis and attempted to castrate herself.

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