Improvements Needed in Prisons

There are several improvements needed in prisons. While some individuals may assume they know what prison environment is like, unless you have worked in a prison or have been an inmate, you really do not know what a prison is like and what improvements could be significantly beneficial.

Education and training is key

In the mid-1990’s, Ohio’s prisons stopped inmates from being able to receive grants for education. Prior to that time, inmates who wanted to improve their life by attending college classes could get government grants to attend college while in prison. This was provided they met all criteria for the grants. Local community colleges usually run the classes which are usually taught in the evening with a program coordinator or assistant college coordinator, who has at least some legal background, on duty at all times. Professors teach classes a few evenings a week.

When grants were no longer awarded to inmates, the only way an inmate could attend classes was if he or she paid for the classes out of his or her own pocket. Not many inmates have such financial means. For many inmates, lack of a job or not having a place to live often contributed to committing the crimes for which they are incarcerated. So many inmates have been left without the opportunity to become educated so that there could be an opportunity to gain the knowledge necessary to try to get a job in a chosen field upon release.

Training in many prisons is often for positions that do not exist outside prison walls. License plates are made in prison. No such opportunity exists outside of Ohio prisons. Another field that inmates may be trained to work in is heating and air conditioning. Yet ex-offenders and convicted felons are not permitted to obtain the state licensure necessary to work in that field. Nor are they permitted to own a construction business even though that may be the prison “job” they are assigned to.

Training and education for real careers and real jobs is imperative. As pointed out by Akron, Ohio resident Bianca Brown, “I did one mistake and it messed it up for me.“ Brown, who pleaded guilty to using a stolen credit card to buy her daughter a birthday present, according to the Beacon Journal in “Ex-Offenders banished for life from some jobs,” was never sent to prison, only given a suspended sentence. Still, that record follows her when she puts in applications.

Stop privatizing prisons

Ohio’s Republican Governor, John Kasich appointed Gary Mohr as director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. Kasich made public his desire to privatize several Ohio’s prisons, even though there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which Mohr formerly ran. Investigations into CCA operations dates back to the 1990’s. As reported in the Sun Sentinel, five prisoners who were relocated from Puerto Rico to the Torrance County Detention Center in New Mexico, under contract with CCA, had been shot during a disturbance. Federal charges were filed in that case. In 1997, A CCA-run prison in Youngstown, Ohio was the site where five murderers and a convicted armed robber escaped. At the time of a lawsuit alleging that inmates’ civil rights had been violated, after 13 inmates had been stabbed and two other inmates murdered, little attention had been paid to the CCA-run prison. Afterwards, information which had been kept quiet came to light.

Corrections Corporation of America ships inmates from one prison to another, from one state to another. After the Youngstown incident was reported, a Cincinnati Enquirer article revealed that the mayor of Youngstown had not been told that inmates were transferred to the prison who had violent histories. In fact, they were not supposed to receive violent prisoners. Then -Youngstown Mayor, Patrick Ungaro, told the Enquirer that CCA “took advantage” by dumping the violent prisoners there. Several lawsuits were filed in relation to incidents at the CCA prison.

In 2010, a video surfaced showing a vicious beating occurring inside an Idaho CCA-run prison. An inmate was being savagely beaten by another inmate with numerous guards witnessing the incident without intervening. The ACLU said that this was just one more of the “24 different cases of assault” that had occurred at the prison since 2006. The ACLU cited an on-going culture of CCA’s refusal to discipline guards who intentionally arrange assaults, humiliating and degrading prisoners, turning a blind eye to violence in the prison and multiple other charges.

Even with the shady past of CCA, Governor Kasich still named Mohr as ODRC director, indicating that he (Kasich) intended to privatize some of Ohio‘s prisons. In November, an inmate was found dead at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, privatized to CCA. NBC-4 reported that the ACLU is seeking help, as recently as January 13, 2013 with on-going issues at the prison. Additionally, after a September 2012 audit, it was noted that there are “dozens of safety, health and security” issues at the CCA-run prison.

CityBeat noted that the sale of prisons to privately-run, for-profit companies was “fully supported” by Governor Kasich. CCA also contributed to Kasich’s campaign. It was recently announced that no more Ohio prisons will become privately-run institutions.

With repeated violence, often sanctioned by private prison staff, poorly trained staff running private prisons, multiple citations and lawsuits, the fact that they very often cost more money, not save states money as Governor Kasich claimed, plus there is no supporting evidence that released inmates are more productive members of society, and that even very violent inmates are transferred from one state to another, private prisons are obviously not the answer.

Implement assistance for ex-offenders upon release

States need to make sure there are programs to help inmates upon release, rather than turning them loose with no where to go, no way of supporting themselves and no life skills, job skills or counseling that may be needed. The Safer Foundation helps ex-offenders re-integrate into society upon their release, providing them with the tools necessary to become productive members of society. If prisons work with such programs and connect inmates to programs well in advance of their release, perhaps the ex-offender will be more successful and less likely to commit new crimes.

There are several improvements needed in prisons. Prisons must provide education and training for real jobs. It does no good to train someone in a career they can never legally work in. The privatizing of prisons has brought violent inmates into other states, where they may viciously attack non-violent inmates or choose to remain upon release, possibly committing new crimes. Privatizing prisons has not saved money, but has cost tax payers more money. Connecting inmates with resources close to time to be released will ensure inmates are connected with real resources to help them successfully reintegrate back into society. Hiring and properly training guards and other staff and administering discipline to staff who violate rules is imperative. With these improvements, prisons will improve, with less violence and less recidivism.