No Criminology section of a library would be complete without also taking a look at prisons designed to keep bad guys (or bad girls) off the streets. Prisons have varying levels of security depending on the nature of crimes committed. Most of us are aware that our penal system is flawed. In Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman, the author comments on her experiences and observations during her year of incarceration in a women’s prison.
Kerman comments on the system being punitive and not rehabilitative. There is a sort of economy system and culture within the walls of the prison, neither of which do anything to prepare offenders to reenter society and thus contributes to the recidivism rate. Often relatives such as sisters or mothers / daughters spend much of their lives in and out of prison. The author comments on the generational aspects of incarcerated families. It’s what they know.
Although this isn’t typically the type of book I would just pick up and read, I did find it interesting to read about what a woman’s prison is like from an insider’s perspective. Also interesting is the way in which Kerman describes her fellow inmates as people just trying to maintain some human dignity in the face of an uncaring and punitive system. One thing the author makes crystal clear is the need for more rehabilitative and educational programming on the inside.
There is a DVD series Orange is the New Black.
This series was originally created in 2013 and streamed by Netflix users and is now available to the public as a DVD series with several seasons.
The next book I came to in my read through of the Fulton County Public Library is The Punishment Imperative by Todd R. Clear and Natasha A. Frost.
This book basically echoes Piper Kerman’s ideas that our penal system is in need of some major and rehabilitative changes. Where Kerman’s book reads easily and delivers ideas in an engaging and entertaining fashion, this book reads like a college term paper and throws a lot of facts at the reader without necessarily engaging the reader. The thesis of the book is located on p.16 and reads:
This book is about an American idea that took root in the 1970’s, rose to dominate discourse and practice through the 1980’s and 1990’s and has, as we enter the second decade of the new century, shows distinct signs of having run its course.
The rest of the paragraph goes on to explain that the authors regard our current penal system as a “grand social experiment in punishment.” The rest of the book discusses the consequences of our current system and attempts to explain the high rate of recidivism.
Perhaps of more interest to me was the next book Prison Profiles by Mary Knochel, Ph.D. and Rafael Ramirez, J.D. These authors are fellow Hoosiers writing about different types of incarceration in my home state of Indiana.
I found this book highly informative and interesting. This book follows fictional characters through the Indiana Department of Corrections (DOC) beginning from the time they arrive in the sally-port of the DOC. All of the characters are actually composites of male inmates with actual details of their crimes and incarcerations. One character, Clarence Speakman, is totally fictional but is used to describe the role a Classification Specialist within the Department of Corrections. Classification Specialists are the only DOC employees who actually interact with both prisoners and paperwork. All other employees of the DOC deal only with prisoners or paperwork.
The men arriving in the sally-port are all wearing jeans and T-shirts. Each has a brown paper bag containing personal possessions. They are all in full restraints which consist of handcuffs, leg shackles, and waist chains. The list of prisoners on the transport is compared to the abstract of judgement which is paperwork that confirms that these prisoners are supposed to be arriving at the Reception and Diagnostic Center.Once confirmation has occurred, the men are allowed to exit the transport. Once the men enter the building their paper bags are collected by an officer who begins to catalog each bag’s contents and label who the items belong to. At this time, the officer also decides what is contraband and must be mailed to a relative and what the prisoner is allowed to keep. Shortly after the prisoners arrival, a second van arrives which contains boxes of paperwork. The prisoner’s “packet” of paperwork will follow each man throughout his stay in the DOC. From this moment onward, the goal at the Reception and Diagnostic Center is to decide where and how each prisoner will do time. This procedure is called the classification process and takes anywhere from 30-45 days to complete. Once the classification process begins the prisoners are considered to officially be in the custody of the DOC. Although there are more than 20 prisons for men in Indiana, every man begins his journey through the system at the Reception and Diagnostic Center in Plainfield, Indiana. The only exception to going to the Reception and Diagnostic Center is if an inmate has been sentenced to death. In that case, he is taken directly to death row (also called x-row) at the Indiana State Prison.
Every man entering the Indiana DOC does so naked with fellow new arrivals. They are taken to a “strip area” and told to strip. After stripping they are then strip searched and showered. At this point each man is given a towel to wrap around himself while he waits for his turn to be “de-loused.” The men work in pairs and spray each other with a fumigant before finally being issued prison clothing. At the Reception and Diagnostic center inmates wear tan t-shirts, undewear, blue scrub pants, socks, and sandals.
The next step is a quick medical evaluation by a nurse where standard vitals are gathered: height, weight, and blood pressure. Inmates are questioned about medications in an effort to avoid missing scheduled dosages of any prescribed meds they may take. Those inmates who are in good health will be seen by a doctor within 48 hours. Inmates with more serious issues will be seen sooner than 48 hours.
After their medical intake, inmates are sent to an inmate barber. The new arrivals have 2 style choices: above the collar and above the ears or a burr. With haircuts done, it’s on to fingerprinting and being photographed for the official prison ID. At this point, inmates are given back their paper bags with any possessions they are allowed to keep during their incarceration. Any items deemed to be contraband will be mailed to the inmate’s relatives. If an inmate has $30 or more in his prison account, the inmate will have to pay the postage to mail the item(s) to relatives. If the inmate does not have $30 in his account, the DOC will pay this expense.
Once the entire group of incoming prisoners has completed all of the above steps they are taken to a Count Officer to be assigned a bunk in the Admitting and Orientation Section (A&O). Elderly and sickly patients are assigned to bottom bunks but all other bunk assignments are random depending on where there is an available bed. There are a few permanent residents of this section. They are prisoners with medical conditions requiring daily dialysis. These prisoners are housed here to facilitate treatment. Permanent residents of this section have cardboard boxes for their possessions and temporary residents keep their paper bags.
Prisoners are escorted between their temporary cells and the dining hall for meals. After dinner on the arrival day inmates are required to attend an orientation class where they will be told about procedures and will be given a rule book. When finished with the orientation the prisoners are transferred to a pod where they will remain for the rest of their stay at the Reception and Diagnostic Center.
At this point the classification process begins in earnest. Inmates days will now be filled with medical, dental, and psychological examinations. If an inmate is illiterate, he will be administered an oral Beta IQ test. Only those offenders with low literacy skills have their IQ tested routinely by the RDC staff. Some inmates may have taken an IQ test during the Pre-Sentencing Investigation (PSI). Prisoners may refuse to undergo any type of testing although most do not refuse since it gives them something to do. Once tested, certain personality profiles indicate the need for psychological interviews. All inmates who reveal tendencies toward substance abuse, sexual deviance, or violent behavior will be seen by a psychologist or psychiatrist.
All inmates will be seen by a Classification Specialist. The Classification Specialists use a point system that will determine what an individual inmate’s security level will be and where they will be housed during the incarceration. Points are assigned based upon such things as the severity of the current offense, severity of any prior convictions, bodily injury in prior convictions, and parole violations. There are 5 Security Levels which are earned by having a score as follows:
0-9 Level One – Facilities have a defined boundary but no fences, open dorms, and minimal staff supervision.
10-17 Level Two– Facilities have single or double fences with single razor ribbon, some towers, single housing or multiple dorms, direct and indirect staff observation
18-22 Level Three-Facilities have a single fence with double razor ribbons or double fences with single razor ribbons, manned towers and/or perimeter detection devices, secure single housing and/or multiple dorms, and close staff observation
23-37 Level Four-Facilities have walls or double fences with razor ribbon, many manned towers, perimeter detection devices, and constant direct staff supervision
Level Five– No inmate in Indiana is ever sent directly to this level. This level is popularly called Super Max and is reserved for inmates who commit offenses within the prison system.
Once an inmate is scored in this way, behavioral considerations are taken into account and may change the score. For instance if the prisoner has been involved with drugs and alcohol in an illegal manner he may score another 5 points. Other things are also taken into consideration such as if there were infractions or escape attempts during a previous incarceration. The Classification Specialist may then make certain recommendations. For instance if the offense(s) are alcohol related it may be recommended that the inmate should complete a rehabilitation program before becoming eligible for work release programs. Medical needs and educational levels of each inmate are also reviewed before assigning an inmate to a particular prison.
The remainder of the book follows the six inmates through their prison assignments and describes how their environments and experiences may vary for each. Pursuit of educational programs, work and work release programs, recreational activities, and whether or not they took advantage of things like drug and alcohol rehabilitation opportunities.
In addition to all of the above things, this book also describes the history of the prison system in Indiana and comments in depth about the way in which the Indiana DOC has always stressed rehabilitation over punishment. This book is an older book and some of our current prisons were actually being built at the time it was written. Overcrowding wasn’t such an issue at the time of this book. The idea of the Reception and Diagnostic Center is to find out the needs of the inmates and then assign them to the facility best suited to deal with the need. For instance young offenders may need to complete high school. They may be sent to the Plainfield facility where there is an actual high school for the inmates. Some inmates may possess skills such as carpentry and may be sent to a facility where they will be able to work making furniture–which is then sold in the community. As much as possible all inmates will still be able to achieve educational goals and be productive members of society even behind bars. This is part of the rehabilitative mind set in Indiana. Even prisoners need to feel useful. As much as possible it is stressed that inmates can still positively contribute to society. For instance inmates can participate in the Locks of Love program.
Unfortunately prison conditions have changed. Overcrowding has many drawbacks. While prisoners may be recommended for certain facilities, placement ultimately now comes down to the luck of the draw and where there is an available bed with that inmate’s security level. Some other factors may affect a prisoner’s placement as well. For instance if there are known gang rivalries or “separatees” (a person or persons who it would be dangerous for a given inmate to be around) an inmate may be assigned to an other than first choice placement.
Do you believe prisons should be more punitive than rehabilitative? Do you know anyone currently in prison? Do you have recommendations to improve the system?