Inside America's Broken—and Broke—Prison System
Slammed: The Coming Prison Meltdown
Slammed: Welcome to the Age of Incarceration
By Jennifer Gonnerman
The number first appeared in headlines earlier this year: Nearly one in four of all prisoners worldwide is incarcerated in America. It was just the latest such statistic. Today, one in nine African American men between the ages of 20 and 34 is locked up. In 1970, our prisons held fewer than 200,000 people; now that number exceeds 1.5 million, and when you add in local jails, it's 2.3 million—1 in 100 American adults. Since the 1980s, we've sat by as the numbers inched higher and our prison system ballooned, swallowing up an ever-larger portion of the citizenry.
When Prison Guards Go Soft
By Sasha Abramsky
"We plan to fail," he says of current correctional policies. "You can put all the police officers you want on the street, but if we don't give those kids hope of a future, of a life, of an ability to make something of themselves, they don't care about life. Nobody's willing to forgive anymore. And we are willing to lock people up for unreasonable periods of time."
Why Texas Still Holds 'Em
By Stephanie Mencimer
Historically, Mexicans caught illegally entering the country have been dumped back across the border, while immigrants and asylum seekers from other countries were processed and released to await their court dates. (Only those with criminal records were detained.) Most of those released, though, failed to appear for court hearings and removal proceedings, and the government didn't have the resources to go looking for them. So in 2006, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency ended its traditional "catch and release" policy and instead started incarcerating non-Mexican immigrants—anyone from a Salvadoran migrant to an Iraqi family seeking political asylum—pending their deportation or asylum hearings. Over the two years since, the agency has increased its use of detention facilities by more than half; it now holds some 30,000 people on any given day.
Why Prisons Banned This Magazine
Banned: Mother Jones, Sept/Oct 2007 (nude child ...in a story on mining dangers)
Approved: Letters to Penthouse XXVIII
How to Get a Conjugal Visit
Disease rates in US prisons compared to general population:
HIV: 490% higher
AIDS: 500% higher
TUBERCULOSIS: 400% higher
HEPATITIS C: 2,000% higher
US prisons and jails house 3 times as many people with serious mental illness as US mental hospitals do.
Where Does $49,000 for Each Inmate Go?
Vocational education: $289
The Shawnee Redemption
By Justine Sharrock
In 2006, two-thirds of the offenders entering Kansas prisons were guilty of parole violations—90 percent of them technicalities, like missing meetings with counselors. A third of all parole violations were because of substance abuse, yet fewer than half of the offenders were getting substance abuse treatment in prison. Only 18 percent had completed job training. Meanwhile, the state's corrections spending increased fourfold between 1985 and 2005; by 2016, the state forecasts, it will rise to $500 million. And the consequences fell disproportionately on the poorest parts of the state: According to the New York-based Justice Mapping Center, the state spent $11.4 million in 2004 incarcerating people from just one part of Wichita—the same area that had to absorb many of those offenders when they were released.
8 Tips for an Easier Prison Stay
By Peter Laufer
Leggo your ego: Be humble. New prisoners will "lock eyes with the wrong person and have problems," says Steven Oberfest, an ex-bouncer and personal trainer who won't say what he did time for. "This is not Fifth Avenue and their penthouse anymore. They're just a number."
Which Works Better Behind Bars, Scuba or Buddha?
Underwater welding (Chino state prison, California)
Every year, 100 inmates enroll in this yearlong career-training program taught in a special diving tank.
Why it works: The program's grads have a very low (6 to 12 percent) recidivism rate. And no wonder: After release, they can earn $100,000 a year in the construction and oil industries.
Meditation (Donaldson Correctional Facility, Alabama)
At this notoriously violent maximum-security prison, 75 men participate in a Buddhist meditation program that includes daily meetings and a 10-day silent retreat.
Why it works: Prison officials say the meditators better control their anger and have fewer disciplinary problems.
Hard Time Out
By David Goodman
One reason why students are increasingly ending up in jail is that police now patrol the halls in many schools. In New York, the police department took control of school safety in 1998 under the Giuliani administration; by the 2005-06 school year, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, the city employed 4,625 school safety agents and at least 200 armed officers, making the NYPD School Safety Division the 10th-biggest police force in the country—larger than those of Washington, DC, Detroit, Boston, or Las Vegas. "We are treating the kids like potential criminals," says Donna Lieberman of the NYCLU. In January, a five-year-old named Denis Rivera was handcuffed behind his back by an NYPD school safety officer for throwing a tantrum in his kindergarten class in Queens.
What Do Prisoners Make for Victoria's Secret?
A stitch in time: California inmates sew their own garb. In the 1990s, subcontractor Third Generation hired 35 female South Carolina inmates to sew lingerie and leisure wear for Victoria's Secret and JCPenney. In 1997, a California prison put two men in solitary for telling journalists they were ordered to replace "Made in Honduras" labels on garments with "Made in the USA."
What Is Nutraloaf, Anyway?
By Justin Elliott
According to a Prison Legal News investigation, overcrowding has caused sewage spills in more than 30 prisons in 17 states, causing wastewater contamination, disease outbreaks, and inmates' deaths.
By Celia Perry
Middle Georgia, along with the rest of the state's private probation industry, owes much of its business to Bobby Whitworth, who was Georgia's commissioner of corrections until 1993, when a sex-abuse scandal involving female inmates forced him out. Gov. Zell Miller promptly reassigned him to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, which positioned him nicely for a side job consulting with a private probation company called Detention Management Services. Three years later, in December 2003, a jury found Whitworth guilty of public corruption for accepting $75,000 from the company to draft and lobby for legislation that dramatically expanded the role of private probation companies. Whitworth was sent to prison for six months, but the law remains on the books, and the private probation industry—led by Georgia's two most powerful Republican lobbyists—has lobbied to be given felony cases as well. That plan has run into opposition from law enforcement: One sheriff told lawmakers last year that among his peers, private probation was seen mostly "as a moneymaking fee-collection service." Another said there is generally "not a lot of emphasis on supervision as much as there is on collection."
Timeline: A Crackdown Chronology
1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act makes mandatory minimum federal sentences for selling or possessing crack 100 times stricter than for cocaine. Total prison population doubles in the following 10 years.
1988 Omnibus Anti-Drug Abuse Act establishes a mandatory 5-year sentence for anyone (girlfriends, roommates) even tangentially linked to the sale or possession of 5 or more grams of crack. Number of drug offenders in federal prisons quadruples in 6 years.
1994 Federal law mandates life without parole for anyone whose 3rd offense is a federal crime.
1999 Car-wash operator Euka Wadlington is sentenced to 2 concurrent federal life sentences for dealing, based on the testimony of drug offenders seeking reduced sentences.
2002 In a survey, 74% of district court judges and 83% of circuit court judges say that mandatory drug sentences are too harsh.
2003 PROTECT Act limits judges' ability to stray from sentencing guidelines. House Republicans form task force to look for "judicial abuse."