The Bristol County Sheriff’s office intends to end in-person visitation in two Dartmouth facilities, replacing it with video calls. The Bristol County House of Correction and the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office Women’s Center will be the first jails in Massachusetts to make the transition.
These Bristol County facilities hold both inmates serving sentences and individuals awaiting trial. They currently have a non-contact policy for visits, in which inmates speak to their friends and family over a phone through a Plexiglas window. Under the new policy, visitors will not enter the actual jails and will instead be directed to an onsite trailer equipped with computers and video conferencing software manufactured by Securus, a private company that many correctional facilities contract for telephone and video communication services. Calls that take place from the trailer will be free of charge. Remote video calls will also eventually be possible but will require virtual visitors to pay an undetermined fee. The new policy will not apply to attorney visits, nor will it affect inmates housed in the Dartmouth ICE facility or the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford.
According to the Bristol County Sheriff’s office, abolishing in-person visitation is part of an effort to reduce the flow of contraband entering the jails. Despite visits taking place through a Plexiglas barrier, drugs and weapons have still been smuggled into the facilities. Officials from the Bristol County House of Correction reported a recent incident in which inmates responsible for post-visitation cleanup obtained a strip of the narcotic Suboxone that had been tucked behind chipped paint on the visitors’ side of the Plexiglas.
The ACLU of Massachusetts has voiced its opposition to the video-only visitation policy. Spokesperson Aaron Wolfson criticized the plan, stating, “As any Skype user can tell you, video communication may provide a benefit to people who are far apart or unable to travel, but it’s no substitute for being in the same room with a person you love. Cutting off the human contact of in-person visitation is cruel to people in jail, their families, and loved ones.”
The new policy is expected to take effect in approximately one month. John Fitzpatrick, who, along with Joel Thompson, is one of the two Supervising Attorneys for the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, said, “This is a problematic policy change. It further dehumanizes an already marginalized prisoner population. It would be surprising if this were not eventually challenged in court. Unfortunately the current Bristol County Sheriff implementing this restriction has a history of making controversial, regressive pronouncements about prisoners in his custody. His latest limit on in-person visitation is both unsurprising and disappointing. Emphasizing punishment in this way rather than rehabilitation and reintegration is contrary to the current bipartisan political consensus favoring prison reform at the national and state level.”
“Our role is not to punish. The punishment is the prison sentence: they have been deprived of their freedom. The punishment is that they are with us,” says Nils Öberg, director-general of Sweden’s prison and probation service.
The United States prison system is widely regarded as broken. Prisons were supposed to “rehabilitate” offenders who have wronged society by punishing them with a prison sentence. Unfortunately, the United States prison system has failed to rehabilitate thus producing high recidivism rates and overall crime. In Sweden, they are testing a new approach to crime. Oberg, the director-general, believes in addressing the inmate’s needs in order for he or she to correct the behavior that led them to prison in the first place. Sweden’s prison rates are significantly lower after they implemented this approach. They’ve also been fortunate enough to actually close prisons because of the lowered crime rate.
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It seems as if criminal justice reform has been a mainstream topic since the 1970’s, but continuously we see prison reforms being halted or ignored by congress. The “tough on crime” approach was of major attention when New York City promised to harshly tackle the issue, but now that talk of reforming has taken place, the actual chance to take action on it seems to be absent from campaigns and ballots. Why? Well, most people pay attention to the problem of crime and then demand change, not the problems affecting criminals. However, as the article points out, America wears a scarlet letter of mass incarceration, which is an embarrassment for our country. And with so many people being affected by prison sentences, more people should be demanding change for the current system. Just because the crimes are happening behind prison walls doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye. In fact, the author suggests, by reforming the criminal justice system, we will see a positive change in other areas, most notably, the economic inequality gap.
Mark Olmsted vowed to never forget his fellow inmates that he would leave behind after his release from a nine month prison stint, and he certainly did not. When he got out he continued to keep in contact with his former cellmates, sending them money here and there or just a friendly letter to let them know they haven’t been forgotten by the outside world. As he continued to campaign for prison reform, he received surprising, and seemingly impossible, tweets from an inmate in an Alabama prison. Turns out that some inmates in southern area prisons are networking via contraband cell phones to inform us, the outside world, of their lives and prison conditions. This network has come to be known as the Free Alabama Movement. A part of it’s statement purpose reads, “And this Movement isn’t about getting ‘some outside support,’ or having our family ‘call the politicians or mayor’s office,’ ‘call the news station’ and on and on and on. The reason for this is simple: we can’t form a movement conditioned on ‘outside’ people without first unifying the ‘inside people.'” So, take a moment out of your day to hear the truth about prisons and prison life from the best experts there could possibly be: the inmates themselves.
Free Alabama Movement Official Website– Here you can listen to the prisoners who have been forgotten, silenced and ignored. Listen to them, let their voices be heard, and spread their message further along in the outside world.
AND the Free Alabama Movement is ALL over youtube, recording their lives on the inside and exposing the hard truths to the outside.
Not only are there youtube videos being posted by FAM, but one inmate actually hosts a talk show from inside the prison, allowing for other inmates with contraband cell phones to call in and speak on his online radio station.
HuffPost Live Segment “Questions Over 15 Deaths in New York Jail”
HuffPost Live had a segment dedicated to the lack of healthcare prisoners receive while incarcerated, and most importantly, why we should care about the healthcare rights of inmates. Joel Thompson, a PLAP attorney, was invited to be a guest contributer to the segment, enlightening viewers about the carelessness and corruption that plauges inmate healthcare. Watch the clip above to hear it from Joel Thompson himself, as well as other guest speakers, Bradley Brockmann, Jake Pearson, Lumumba Bandele.
Above, a photo from the scene at Keene State College’s Pumpkin Fest this weekend.
We’ve been hearing about the Ferguson protests since the day Michael Brown was shot and killed by white police officer, Darren Wilson. The media has described the protesters as everything from “thugs” to “domestic terrorists” that are out to destroy their town of Ferguson. However, anyone who has been following the story knows that the protests by these “unruly thugs” is nothing more than a prime example of the media’s racism and the ways it criminalizes young African-American men. Compare the “riots” of Ferguson to the chaos of Pumpkin Fest at Keene State College this past weekend and you’ll be able to see the problems that plague the intersection of race and media exposure. Why weren’t the young, privileged white men referred to as “thugs” and “domestic terrorists” as they stood atop flipped cars and threw beer bottles at police? Imagine the images we saw from Keene State this past weekend were of the Ferguson protestors- would the media be using language such as “high spirited” and saying the protests had “gotten out of hand?” Ferguson protestors are using civil disobedience to protest the way they are being gravely mistreated and negatively profiled by police officers because of the color of their skin, resulting in extreme violations of their civil rights. Keene State rioters were blatantly disobeying police officers because, as one student is quoted as saying, “it’s a blast to do things you aren’t supposed to be doing.”
New documetary film “The Throwaways” follows Ira McKinley, a filmmaker and ex-convcit, as he guides viewers through nearly empty city of Albany, New York while shedding light on the prison and police problems that have plagued marginalized populations for years. Ira McKinley describes his life before prison, explaining that his father was shot and killed by cops when he was just 14 and he quickly became “addicted to the life.” To support his new lifestyle, including a crack habit, he began robbing stores which ultimately landed him in prison until 2002. After he was released, he describes how hard it was for him to re-enter society as an ex convict, deeming himself a “marked” citizen. Ira McKinley bravely takes viewers into a world of racial profiling, which he refers to as “The New Jim Crow,” based on the book by Michelle Alexander, mass incarceration, and the slow death of once heavily populated, black communities.
Click here to watch the interview or read the full article.
Click here to learn more about Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
Click here for “The Throwaways” documenary website.
“People talk about the euphoria you feel about getting out,” he said. “I didn’t feel anything like that. I was scared to death and I certainly wasn’t happy. You don’t spend three decades in an eight-by-sixteen foot cell and then come out and expect to live a normal life. You become acclimated to prison life and get institutionalized” -Lawrence White, also pictured below, a released prisoner who served 30 years.
The quote above, said by Lawrence White, accurately explains the difficulty of adjusting to freedom after having spent so many years behind bars. Many people who are released from prison do not receive the reentry help and up to date information that is needed for them to survive in a new day and age. After living in a controlled and secluded facility for a majority of their life, many inmates, such as Lawrence White mentioned above, forget how to live independently and without being told what to do. The abrupt push into the free world is only the beginning of inevitable difficulties for all inmates, but it may be even harder for those who are aged 50 and older and have spent a majority of their life in prison. Finding a home, apartment or an assisted living facility that is willing to take ex felons, a job that doesn’t require daily lifting of heavy weights (construction and foodservice jobs are the most commonly available to ex prisoners), medical care and with that the ability to pay for it via healthcare, etc., are just a few of the uphill battles for the aged inmates. For those who lose the battle, many end up homeless or in cramped, illegal living spaces, and begging on the street. Fortunately though, there are programs that are dedicated to helping aging prisoners adjust to society and ensuring they receive the proper care and resources they need. Click here to read the full article.
If you’ve been reading the PLAP blog regularly, then you’ll remember the post titled “Mothering Between a Rock and a Hard Place” that told the story of Shanesha Taylor and her struggle as a poor, single mother. Well, today I learned that Shanesha Taylor has been awarded custody of her children again! Shanesha’s children were taken by Child Protective Services following the charges of child abuse for leaving her two youngest children in a car while she went for a job interview. Fortunately, the incredible support Shanesha received from the public was enough to influence the courts. It’s about time poverty stricken single mothers are given a voice, a chance, and a change.
Change starts on the ground level! Stand up for justice!
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US federal prisons are overcrowded and are housing more than 40% of inmates than they were designed to hold. The number of inmates held in federal custody has increased by 500% and continuously increasing. The majority of inmates are serving sentences for drug-related offenses. Attorney General Eric Holder has proposed his ideas on how the criminal justice system should change and would reduce the number of sentences served because of a non-violent crime committed. Holder devised a plan that would free up prisons and limit the number of non-violent offenders in jail. Rather, prosecution will avoid using the “mandatory minimum” as a form of punishment, but direct offenders to drug treatment and community service programs. Attorney Holder gave a speech back in August speaking on his views of the vicious cycle of the criminal justice system that is weakening communities. He believes that the criminal justice system is doing nothing in its power to alleviate the problem. Read More.