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.
“It was serious—but I knew leukemia is very treatable. I didn’t understand what was happening or why she wasn’t receiving treatment”- Sue Ellen Allen (left) on her friend Gina’s (right) lack of medical care.
In a previous post, attorney Joel Thompson was on HuffPost Live to discuss the inadequate healthcare and medical treatment inmates receive when they become a prisoner of the state. One woman, Sue Ellen Allen, has experienced both sides of medical treatment. Six months before she was to enter prison, Sue Ellen Allen was diagnosed with stage 3B breast cancer. Cancer, in itself, is scary. Cancer, while a prisoner, is unimaginably terrifying.
Before she entered prison, Sue Ellen Allen was given competent doctors and availably ready medical treatment to manage the pains of cancer and chemotherapy. Then, she entered prison, and her life and illness were suddenly ignored and worthless. Her chemotherapy treatments were delayed, she was not given any medicine to reduce the nausea, and when she got a mastectomy, she was handcuffed and shackled throughout the entire procedure. Despite all this pain and misery, Sue Ellen Allen found light in her friend, Gina. Gina was another cancer patient in prison who was also a victim of delayed chemotherapy treatments. Together, they cared for each other through their pain and formed a bond Sue Ellen Allen would never forget. Sadly, Gina succumbed to her leukemia very quickly, and passed away on June 19, 2002.
Click here to read the full article.
Click here to learn about Gina’s Team, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education of incarcerated citizens.
Help Lady Liberty Out and Read the Full Article Here.
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.”
Above, Bridgewater State Hospital
Bridgewater State Hospital has been under fire after a patient died by the hands of several correctional officers while they were attempting to place him in restraints. The death, ruled a homicide, sparked an investigation into the hospital and the treatment of mentally ill prisoners. As a result, Deval Patrick has written up a plan that consists of decreasing the use of restraints and isolation of patients and hiring more properly trained clinicians that can effectively and appropriately handle mentally ill individuals. Many mental health advocates are in favor of this overhaul, grateful that patients will be able to get the help they truly need from a licensed clinician, instead of relying on correctional officers to do the job. Click here to read the full article.
As the drug epidemic continues to grow and drug offenders continue to pile up in prison, we are faced with the undeniable truth that sending addicts to jail is not going to solve the drug problem. The “War on Drugs” specifically focused on eliminating the supplier while completely ignoring the addicts and the depths of addiction. What we should have focused on was prevention and treatment for drug addicts, but instead of treating the addict as the sick and vulnerable human being they truly are, we punished them for having a problem. As new research comes to light about the brain and addiction, I hope it will change people’s opinions about addicts and the right way to heal them. In the article, it states that when a person becomes an addict, it physically changes their brain chemistry and make up. Instead of receiving signals that they need food or water, they get a message that they need their drug to satisfy the physical dependence. Without proper treatment and counseling for addicts they will go straight back to the thing that makes them feel better; their drug.
How many times are we going to arrest and release a drug offender until he or she passes away from this harrowing health problem? When people are sick, we provide them with care. It is irrational to believe that locking up a sick person will cure their disease, so why do we believe this is true for drug offenders? The scariest part of releasing a drug offender is knowing that their need for their drug grew stronger every day they sat in that jail, but their tolerance for the drug was decreasing at the same time. For some, the drug becomes stronger than them. And for the unfortunate, the drug wins. It’s time to stop letting the drug win and stop letting it overcrowd our prisons.
Link to the Article
For more information about prisoners and drug treatment, please visit:
The Anonymous People Documentary Website
Justice Policy Institute