Whether Conservative Or Liberal, Everyone Is Talking About Prison Reform
“60 Minutes” on CBS this week was the latest to talk about prison reform. This time with Oprah Winfrey at the helm talking about Pelican Bay in California’s reforms on how they use solitary confinement. Pelican Bay was designed as what is known as a “Super Max” prison, where most of the prisoners are confined to solitary confinement. It seemed like a good idea at the time it was designed to stop prison gangs and prison violence, but it soon got abused with solitary being used for even minor infractions in prison. The data quickly piled up that it was harmful to prisoners’ mental health, even over the short term. Because of this, steps have been taken to only use “Super Max” prisons only for those that are truly a danger to staff and other prisoners or themselves.
Not just in California, but also in places such as North Dakota, known to be Conservative. While California was ordered by The Supreme Court to change how they ran their prisons, North Dakota changed after their head of prisons went on a trip to see Norwegian Prisons on an invitation of a law firm. After that trip, they started changing the system there to treat prisoners more humanely and prepare them more for when they are released.
California is on the same path with incentives such as a prisoner getting a GED and learning trade skills for earning time off their sentence. Some would say California still has a way to go since they still have a ton of sentence enhancements that add major time onto a prisoners’ sentences beyond the crime they commit. As well as the fact that only non-violent offenders qualify for most of the incentive programs. This stems from the “Willie Horton” effect.
Willie Horton was a murderer that somehow qualified for a weekend furlough and committed more murders under Governor Dukakis, who was running for President of The United States. Governor Dukakis lost the presidency partly on being seen as soft on crime due to this. Since then, parole boards have been scared to let any violent offender out on parole no matter what, for fear of something like this happening again.
Marc Morjé Howard, the director of Georgetown University’s Prison and Justice Initiative, wants to see parole boards taken out of politics and decisions for parole boards being more based on data. He also argues in an interview in The Atlantic from August 29, 2017 that while doing this we also need to focus more on rehabilitation in prisons instead of punishment. He points to how parole is done in France, where judges are appointment-based on a Meritocracy instead of based on personal politics or having to fear for their jobs because of public opinion.
In Georgia, non-violent offenders with mental health or substance abuse problems can be admitted into accountability courts for treatment to deal with their issues, to work to prevent future issues with the law. They also give great latitude in the juvenile courts to allow them to work with community programs and courts to rehabilitate youth offenders. There are even charter schools in some youth detention centers for those that have to be detained, according to an October 18, 2016 Washington Times article.
Whether court ordered or in an effort to save money, politicians in states across the country are working on prison reform even as new crimes scare communities into asking for new penalties. At the same time, academics are talking about prison reform, trying to show politicians the data that will help them past the prison reform. They want to convince politicians that reform prisons are the best for prisoners and still maintain public safety.
Get educated on the data for your community and join the conversation in your area so that prison reform is as good as possible.
*Tips his hat and walks out the door*.