Recent bad weather in Texas has caused a lot of issues for some local prisons.
Due to severe flooding, two prison units are being evacuated and bused to other prisons. The weather and flooding caused a large blackout within the prison walls. A brawl soon escalated between the prisoners and guards.
Upwards of 2,600 prison inmates are being relocated to nearby prisons. Evacuation procedures began on Sunday morning. Along with the extra inmates, surrounding prisons will be receiving extra food and water to help reduce the added burden to their systems. For the prisons that may still be affected by floods and heavy rains, sandbags and other supplies were being sent out. Ramsey Unit, a smaller, low-level security prison in the same area, simply had to move some of its inmates to the main building.
The heavy rains and flooding wreaked havoc on Luther Unit in Navasota, Texas. The prison, which is located roughly seventy miles northwest of Houston, suffered huge power outages. When prison guards ordered the inmates to return to their cells, some of the did not comply and a brawl ensued. The fight included now less than fifty inmates, but things have since returned to normal
The American Civil Liberties Union conducted a study and consequently released a report concerning the use of solitary confinement on female prisoners. The report made it extremely clear that isolation is a punishment that should only be used in situations where no other consequence will suffice. Solitary confinement should be reserved for cases where a prisoner is an active threat to the safety of other people. The study also shows that the unique issues faced by women put them in a position of additional harm than men who are placed in solitary confinement.
The report used recent data to determine that between 80,000 and 100,000 prisoners, both male and female, in the United States that are housed in solitary confinement.
The generalized effects of solitary confinement on the human mind have been well studied in previous years. Previous studies have also shown that the majority of inmates who are placed in solitary confinement are isolated due to behaviors that are caused by mental illness. Other studies have shown that being in solitary confinement can make the symptoms of mentally ill patients worse. However, there has been very little data collected that is specifically focused on the female jail and prison population.
Current estimates approximate that the number of women that are incarcerated annually. While they are incarcerated, women face problems that are gender specific. The majority of sexual abuse victims are women. Being in solitary confinement can cause those who have been victims of sexual abuse to relive their victimization. This is partially because prisoners who are in solitary confinement are watched on a constant basis, even at times that should be private, like using the restroom and showering.
Many times, women who are in solitary confinement are under the supervision of a male guard, without another female present. This practice directly violates the Prison Rape Elimination Act that prohibits a guard of the opposite sex from searching a nude prisoner. Even though this act is in place, the practice still continues, which dramatically increases the possibility of sexual misconduct from staff.
For years, people who have loved ones in jail or prison have complained about phone service providers who charge sky-high fees for the ability to call and chat with an inmate. Charges can reach as high as $14 per minute. A recent New York Times article bluntly labels this price-gouging.
The efforts of inmates’ families to change the system have finally been rewarded. Recently, the Federal Communications Commission set limits on the rates inmates communications companies charge for most phone calls. This ruling expands a similar move two years ago that applied to interstate phone calls.
There are both humanitarian and practical reasons to limit the charges. It is hard to justify forcing inmates’ loved ones, many of whom are poor, to choose between buying necessities and staying in contact. Reforms are also in the public interest. Advocates have shown that a prisoner who maintains contact with family and community while serving time is less likely to return to crime and end up back in jail That benefits everybody.
There is more to be done. The FCC’s current rules do not cover other types of personal telecommunication like voice mail and video calls. The FCC is already moving ahead with public comment on this issue.
Both political leaders and advocates for inmates want the FCC to ban a common practice in which phone providers pay a kickback to corrections facilities. These payments add to the cost of inmate phone communications. However, it isn’t certain that the FCC has the authority to prohibit the use of these “commissions.” A final issue that reformers want to address is the practice of curtailing in-person visits with inmates. Where phone companies have persuaded prison officials to do this, inmates are left with no option but to pay the high calling rates.
It’s no news that the prison industry is struggling with overpopulation, but the effect it has on the staff of prisons is becoming more apparent. In Michigan, the Huron Valley Correctional Facility is a women’s prison who has recently experienced overcrowding due to the fact that it is the only women’s prison in Michigan. Instead of hiring more guards to accommodate the overpopulation, Huron Valley has implemented a new policy that requires all guards to work mandatory overtime. This doesn’t include holiday pay either. These shifts can thus last for days, and the end result on the guards causes them to be exhausted mentally and physically.
The prisoners are under pressure as well. The overcrowding causes more aggression in the inmates, and combined with the overworked staff makes for a tense atmosphere and dangerous situations. Without proper mental and physical health conditions, the possibility of the relations between the inmates and guards becoming aggressive is higher than ever. A spokesman for the Correctional Department has said on record that if a correctional officer cannot perform overtime duties, then they are disciplined. However, this matter could simply be solved with hiring more correctional officers. In which case the officers would be able to perform their jobs more effectively. The Correctional Department has stated that they are aware of the staffing problems, but have not made much of an effort to find more employees.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch wants to designate a National Re-entry Week to celebrate the prisoners released into society every year, but, at the same time, she is aware of the high recidivism rates and the laws that make the transition so difficult.
According to the American Bar Association, there are over 47,000 laws and local ordinances in the United States that are designed to penalize someone who has had a connection with the criminal justice system. They ultimately restrict the offender from attaining complete reintegration into society.
In New York, state prisoners are released every week with the same two challenges facing them: the lack of affordable housing and the inability to secure employment. Without these two essentials, ex-prisoners end up in NYC’s shelter system relying on government assistance when they should be encouraged to start a new life. These issues cause 80 percent of released prisoners to be arrested and returned to prison.
To combat these rising recidivism numbers, New York State is required to add something substantial that would improve the reentry for ex-prisoners, and the most readily accessible solution is reinstating the work release program. This program has already proven to be successful, so no additional research is needed, and it would address both issues.
Reinstating the work release program in New York would allow people to gain some amount of work experience and build savings for housing expenses. These are the two largest hurdles that released prisoners would pave the road to their re-entry into the real world.
By reinstating the program, everyone becomes a winner: the released prisoner gains confidence and security re-entering his environment and citizens of New York City are not spending their taxes on supporting the government-subsidized lifestyle. Most importantly, it prevents more unnecessary crime from taking place.