Archive for the ‘Michelle Alexander’ Category

“It was once said that the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering in to its prisons.”

When it come to corrections there are four major goals that are primarily used to achieve a reduction in crime and recidivism, these goals consist of:

1.Rehabilitation-which stresses the re-socialization or reformation of the offender through institutional or community programs.
2.Incapacitation-which seeks to reduce crime through the actual physical restraints of the convicted offender.
3. Deterrence- which refers to the notion that the punishment of the offender serves as an example to the rest of the society.
4. Retribution-which refers to the correctional policies that are predicated on two principals:
(a)individual responsibility
(b) proportionality, meaning a convicted offender deserves to be punished because they are responsible for committing a specific criminal violation, and that the punishment must be proportional to the severity of the offense committed.

If these are the goals of incarceration there are certain elements that must be considered, in order for these goals to be met.

1 If rehabilitation is the goal of incarceration sentencing polices must involve flexibility and the goal has to reflect the characteristics and needs of the “individual”offender.
2 If incapacitation is the goal of incarceration it is expected that the goal to reduce crime and recidivism is met but using a system of sentencing based on legislative’s or the courts desire to keep of the streets those offenders who might otherwise engage in criminal behavior off the streets.
3. If deterrence is the goal of incarceration it may cater more to the side of the public and society, as they seek means to inhibit criminal behavior through these exemplary sanctions, therefore making the needs of society precedent over the needs of the individual offender.
4. If retribution is the goal of incarceration it would require a relatively inflexible sentencing system and little discretion would be permitted at the sentencing stage.

Often times what is overlooked is that there are very few direct links to crime and incarceration. Other than the one who commits crime eventually is incarcerated. Crime is a result of, and depends on, social conditions such as poverty, underemployment and urbanization, Currently incarceration polices respond not to crime but to political climates and legislative intent. The get tough on crime model has not worked and has been proven to be ineffective in reducing recidivism. Actually, there has been an increase in crime, violence and homelessness each year since the war on drugs began, or what is commonly now called “the get tough on crime”, policies have been used to address this issue.

Statistics show:

Between the years 2010 and 2011 violent victimization increased from 4.9 million to 5.8 million, an 18% increase.
1. Assaults, which account for 86% of all violent victimizations increased by 22 %
2. Total domestic violence increased from 1.1 million to 1.4 million in 2011.
3. Domestic violence increased from 4.4 million in 2010 to 5.3 million in 2011, a 19% increase.
4. Intimate violence increased from 3.0 million in 2010 to 3.3 million in 2011, a 9 % increase.

Crime is equated with social disruption and its perpetrators are a threat to the dominant culture. The role of the criminal justice system and especially prisons, is to protect societies lawful and the values of society. So the mindset is that if rehabilitation doesn’t work there is a primarily reliance of incapacitation, deterrence and retribution, which has become a cause to the overcrowdedness that exists in prisons today. It has been proved that incapatictaion, deterrence and retribution has not reduced criminality or recidivism, often most prisoners will leave prison in a worsened condition than when they entered.

What is recidivism and how is it defined?
*Recidivism is defined, by some, as the relapse of an individual into criminal activity based on re-arrest for new offenses that lead to incarceration.
What is Re-entry and how is it defined?
*Re-entry (often associated with recidivism) is the process of releasing prisoners into society , where plans for inmate’s transition, into society, are addressed. To help them develop the skills needed to live free of crime, to help them maximize the time they spend during incarceration and what its expected upon release.
So, if recidivism is associated with re-entry and it has been proven that incarceration doesn’t reduce recidivism nor protect the public, the question becomes, why is there an increasing flow of tax dollars in building more prisons when it could be used to developed more effective programs geared towards re-entry? one of the current strategies to reduce recidivism includes building more prisons and imposing harsher sentences, even though these methods have been proven to be ineffective. The sad reality is that tax payers are paying lager amounts of money to build more prisons rather than trying to find more effective and efficient ways to address this issue.

According to the Justice Mapping Center, www.justiceatlas.org.  “In Pennsylvania, taxpayers will spend over $40 million dollars to imprison residents of neighborhoods in a single zip code in Philadelphia, where %36 of the households have incomes under $25, 000.”   In an article that is posted on my blog, called the Million Dollar Block.   It speaks about places that spend more than a million dollars each year to incarcerate residents of a single block.  You can visit my site to read these articles.

The agencies that have changed the trend some and have seen bits of results in the area of reducing recidivism are the agencies that utilize what is called re-entry courts, which are working well and have had much success in reducing recidivism. Reentry courts consist of a system where the courts collaborate with probations and parole to accommodate some of the needs of the ex-offender.

A recidivism rate of two-third ( as of now the rate is 70%) clearly shows that something is amiss and some of the offenders are not being adequately prepared to return to society. This is often due the the lack of funding that is needed to develop the appropriate programs needed to better prepare and equip the offender.

10’s of thousands of Americans are released into the community from prison and jail every year and very few of them have the basic resources needed to stay out of prison. Sadly, often prison conditions make it easy for offenders to reoffend, as the basic necessities that most of them do not have out society they are provided in prison.

There is a need for access to services, including education, job training and job placement. There is also a need for substance and alcohol abuse treatment before and after release. Half of state prisoners and one-third of federal prisoners in 1997 reported committing their offenses while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Yet, among those who had used alcohol or drugs in the month before their crime, only %14 had received treatment since their admission into prison.
Many offenders have limited employment history and/or no experience needed to perform certain jobs. Some of these limitation are related to illiteracy as well as the lack of work training skills need to achieve self-sufficiency. Yet, few receive these services while in prison. Not necessary because they are not offered these skills but sometimes it is due to lack of enthusiasm.

How can this be addressed?

1. By redesigning the methods which are currently being used to address these issues.
2. Implementing and redesigning programs, as well as building facilities that specialize in the needs that are that are closely associated with crime and recidivism reduction.

The BOP has been looking for more ways to address some of these needs.  Here at this institution some of these steps include, but are not limited to:

1. Mock job fairs where one of the requirements is that the inmates learn how to write resumes and cover letters.

2. Partnerships with the local halfway houses and probation departments to speak to the guys about the realities of what to expect upon release.

3. The BOP also has an Inmate Employment Information Handbook that contains a list of the agencies and information that will be needed upon release.  This handbook is free and accessible to every BOP inmate.  Here at this institution we keep that information on hand and available to whoever wants it.  

4. A Career Resource Center where the inmates can gather information needed to obtain birth certificates, social security cards and other identification related information.  Information which is critical in gaining employment.  

One of the most important points that I want to make is how education is connected to the problem of recidivism. At least 70% of all people incarcerated have not completed high school. Out of this group %16 have not high school education at all. %40 are functionally illiterate, meaning that they read below or at the 5th grade level., %19 are completely illiterate. In the population of adults in America %21 are functionally illiterate and %4 are completely illiterate.

Studies show that education and recidivism are related because inmates with at lest two years of college education have a %10 re-arrest rate, while the national re-arrest is about %66. Despite the conclusive evidence the education has a direct link to crime, poverty, incarceration and recidivism education as a means of solution is often overlooked.

Education provides for employment, important to successful re-entry. There are two main systems in our society, Penal and Educational. When one fails the other takes its place. Those that adjust and do well in the educational system almost never find themselves in prison. Those that learn the importance of education while in prison almost never re-offend. Which is why furthering my education is so important to me, as well as advocating the importance of education on all levels, as a means to address these social issues that exist within our society.

Also attached to education is self worth and value, It is through education that one learns life skills, social and other proactive skills needed to stay connected to society. One also learns essential skills that will be essential to avoiding prison in the future. Lack of employment is one of the major reasons for committing crime. Lack of employment is often due to lack of education, in the communities that are more commonly associated with crime and low income.

It is through education that one learns their role in society. Many offender often return to communities that breed fragmentation and negative influences. Poverty  crime and ethnic disparity can create an imbalance in these communities therefore the community can no longer positively influence those that reside within it. The order of the day becomes survival. One begins to not only think this way but act out these roles as a means to survive. They begin to believe this is the role that they are supposed to play in life, as crime has now become a way of life for them. it is through education that this cycle is disrupted, and one learns to understand their roles in the greater society, and not just in one small destitute community.

(Would it be safe to say that what people learn in this community they practice in prison, and what they learn in prison they practice in the community?)

So that I am clear here let me go on the record as saying that it is important for those who have committed crimes to be punished, accordingly.  Therefore if incarceration is a reality of our society lets deal with the issue so that there becomes less of a need to use it in areas where it may not benefit and becomes more of a financial burden.

Along with the four goals of incarceration that are used today education has to be included as one of these goals. Not only does it have to be a component but the process of education has to start at an early age.

1. These components have to place a serious expectation, which members of the above communities can learn and benefit from education.

2. There has to be an upgrade tin the educational system at the early stages of development. Many people from these communities have been deemed unteachable and unlikely to learn. This is why of the when they enter into prisons they do not understand the value of education nor can they make the connections as to why it is important to have and education in order to remain free.

3. There has to be a broadening of opportunities and possibilities that are achieved through education. It is not enough to tell them, but to show that and continue to show them amd continue to reinforce the ideas, concepts and beliefs.

Although for some members of these communities going to prison is a given, and often considered normal, it is never too late to change. So as this stage the focus had to be on developing needs based programs, for the offender, specialized for their needs. These steps have to be taken earlier and also be workable and realistic. This plan has to focus on accountability, responsibility and be designed to set goals that will aid in the re-entry concerns that the offender must meet in order to remain free.

*The BOP has what is called an ISDS (Inmate System Development System) yet one of the concerns that I have with it is that the process of developing the plan can often come too late.  What do I mean?  The process in developing that plan needs to start at admission, at the very first jail that the inmate lands in.  It is often the case that this plan doesn’t start to develop until the inmate is sentenced and sent to their designated institution and often they have been exposed to other outside influences that may steer them away from starting the process of re-entry at an earlier point of their incarceration.  The earlier the better.

I strongly believe that investing in therapeutic learning communities and institutions, are a better investment of tax dollars, and would aid in addressing the needs that must be met to reintegrate into society. The intent and focus of these communities and program would be the acceptance of responsibility, restorative justice and meeting the educational and rehabilitation needs.

Without these programs and living conditions there is a higher chance that many offenders will fall victim to a certain type of prison socialization. The subculture that we call prison politics. It is a way of life that one has to adapt to in order to survive within the prison system. The subculture often breeds hostility, anger and resentment. Inmates often suffer extremes bouts of depression and anxiety. In some case there is a need to confine them to special housing units where they are locked down 23 hours a day depending on the time of year it could be for 24 hours at a time. I have experienced this type of solitary confinement many times during my incarceration. The SHU is used as a mechanism to modify inmates behavior. There are some of us who can withstand being locked down at lengths at a time, but there are more that can not withstand the hole. The longest time that I have done in the SHU at one time is 16 months.

These conditions and this subculture can deaden the emotions that are needed to be empathetic to the experiences of those who are harmed as a result of crime. Empathy is an important aspect in the process of change and transformation.

One of the programs that I helped to develop and facilitate here is a a program called “The New Beginnings Program”. It is a program that focus on many of the pre-incarceration issues which often lead to prison m as well as many of the post incarceration issues which often leads one back to prison. There are several components to The New Beginning Program some of them being:

1. Crime prevention – where the realities of crime and its roots are addressed. We discuss the importance of living a productive and responsible lifestyle, free of crime. Thorough increasing awareness of certain social behaviors and conditions that contribute to crime and violence.

2. we discuss thinking barriers and tactic use that complements the criminal personality. so it is here that we work on correcting think patterns.

3. we focus on substance and alcohol abuse awareness, as well as lifestyles that are equally addictive and dangerous.
4. we also have a mentoring and coaching component.

The New Beginnings Program is based on the concept that, if a person is willing to make the choice to change there are three concepts that can be applied to their lives for what we call transformation to work.  Those three concepts being:

1. Relationships – the developing of positive and productive relationships that nurture growth and development.  This is where coaching has been very effective.

2. Reframing – changing the way that one views life on a whole.

3. Repetition – getting into the practice of doing these things over and over again

The most important and critical component of this program is relationships, and the goal of this program is to stress the importance of building, mending and fostering healthy positive and productive relationships.

Another and very important program that is in the developmental stages is a program geared and focused towards preparing guys for the transition back into the family.  One of the most critical components in reducing recidivism is support, family in particular.  This is an area that is often overlooked.  How is the person going to be received back into the home?  What transitions and changes does the family have to make to accommodate the person back into their lives?  I know that there are many accommodations needed upon my release; the question now becomes is my family ready to meet the man who left a boy?

Another project that I am currently involved with is a project that I have going on with a Dr. Patrick Williams, founder of The Institute for Life Coach Training and co-author of the book Becoming a Professional Life Coach. What we are doing is finding ways to incorporate Life Coaching as a means of intervention in the area of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency. We are looking for organizations to network with and work with to achieve this goal.  This is something that is most important to me.  This is where I focus most of my attention and why I designed the RECONSTRUCT PROGRAM.  My focus is in the area of Juvenile Justice.  Please visit Coaching The Global Village to read more about this project.

I came to prison as a juvenile and I will tell you that they system has it all wrong when it comes to that area. I am not talking about juveniles being charged as adults but the treatment of juvenile and the expectations for them to act and think as adults once in the system.  So, my goal is to get involved with others that need first hand education on this issue.

One of the projects that I wanted to do was a project called the first 365. It is a documentary that recounts the first year after my release. How does a guy that came to prison a child and leaves a man after 20 plus years adjust to a new world. I can not imagine a world with computers while you can not imagine a world with out one!! So how is the re-entry process for a person such as this. This is something that I have, unsuccessfully, been trying to get others involved in, making and filming this documentary. If push come to shove I will do it on a I PHONE, because the message needs to get out there and people need to see it.

One of my future plans is to use my experiences, expertise and skills to work with wayward youth, which to me is the ultimate recidivism reducer.  Get them before they get here.  I really want to focus on the concept of relationships and Life Coaching.  I also intend to work in the field of re-entry and with ex-offenders.

In closing, I want to say that this is a societal issue that concerns us all and that to fix any of it requires that those who share the common goal of changing what exists today collaborate and work together to get the job done. These partnerships are essential in more ways than one.

As I get closer to coming home I ask myself, What makes me so different from the statistics that I just mentioned?  I ask myself who is really invested in, no only, my transition back into society, but also the transition of the other men that will be released from prison, who may have the same potentials that I have if not more.  I am fully confident that I have the tools to succeed, but what concerns me is not my capabilities but the willingness of others in extending the hand of opportunity needed in order to use the skills that I have to make a difference in a problem that will be just as much mine one day as it is yours now.  My goal and the question of what I am going to do becomes clear.  That is get out and become a citizen regardless if others are willing to help me along the way.  I am going to ask myself, Have I left something behind that is worthwhile, something productive?  Did I leave prison, making a difference and what have I done to become part of the solution?  The question now becomes what are you going to do?

part 1 this is part one of a series

talk about history repeating itself we are seeing that today with the growth of the Hispanic population in America. the things that African Americans went through the Hispanics are going through the same thing but the difference being the slave trade has been replaced with incarceration. let me share with you a story that i heard the other day and from here you can draw the parallels.

as a male prisoner i am very aware of how prisons operates and how it effects the men but i never considered how it effects the women that have kids. when a immigrant woman is locked up her kids are taken into custody at the same time. that is if they are there during the arrest. if they are not there than there is no telling what happens to them if they have no family members here in the states. can you imagine coming home from school to find that your mother is not there and has been taken into custody? the worse part of that is that you cannot go and inquire because your status of being free may change upon inquiry. you are illegal so you have no legal rights to get a lawyer and fight to make sure that justice is served. than you don’t know any of that as you are a child and have not idea what all of this really means. this would be hard to imagine! yet everyday this takes place and people are oblivious to it. draw the parallel of slavery here of when the tribes were raided and Africans where kidnapped to be enslaved. when the child was off somewhere else to return to the tribe after a day of playing and hungry for the days activities, anxious to get home to tell mom about something spectacular that may have happened only to get there and find that the land had been raided and no one left. who raises that child?

when an undocumented woman is locked up for her status here her children are either placed in foster care, more American dollars spent to take care of this child, the child is turned over to other relatives or the child ends up homeless and locked out of society. with that being said it is no wonder that the gangs have become surrogate families for many Hispanics in this country.

when a person of illegal status is locked up the sentences have various ranges from months to years. if a person is released to their country and come back that time doubles, there are guys here that are doing up to 10 years for crossing over into the us. not for crimes but for re-entry. most of them are coming back to reunite with family. the women are willing to risk death, and a host of other crimes against humanity that goes along with cross the middle of the desert with a group of men who are crooked minded, and incarceration just to get reunite with their children. the bond of a mother and child is that strong that they would endure that and risk coming back to prison for a longer term than the first time.

often these women have their minds made up prior to release that they are coming back for these children. this is the same mindset that many women on those slave ships had. all they wanted to do was get back home to their children. they were bribed into thinking that after a certain amount of time they were going to be taken back home to reunite with family. this was to get more production out of them. so when Michelle Alexander talks about mass incarceration and how it parallels slavery and the era of Jim Crow all we have to do it look at the Hispanic issue and make parallels and the picture that she paints becomes clearer.

Is mass incarceration the way that the criminal justice system has created a form of modern day slavery?

The author Michelle Alexander speaks of slavery and the birth of mass incarceration.  To me it is the same thing in principle.  According to the author mass incarceration and the way that the criminal justice system targets blacks and browns has taken the place of the Jim Crow laws that made blacks second class citizens and deprived them of certain rights. This is similar to the rights that one loses when they go to prison and later return home. Bear in mind that she focuses on drug laws and the disparity between blacks and whites.  The point that she makes is that often these are non violent offenses and the long term implications, not being able to exercise certain rights, is far worse than the incarceration itself.   The term “ex offender” in itself casts one into a caste system of its own.  So with that having been said it seems apparent there must be an underlying connection to slavery and the way that our criminal justice system works today.