Prison is Not Only a Place

December 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Prison is also a spiritual condition.  And, I am concerned that all the well-meaning movements to change legislation and expose conditions don’t emphasize this nearly enough.

It is easy to communicate what we can “see.”  The walls, the bars, the frisk, the food, the bedding, the garb, the CO’s, the laws.  It is not nearly as easy to translate the everlasting feelings one is left with after having their freedom and identity severed.

I’m thankful there are people who care and want to change the prison industrial complex.  But, these things still focus so squarely on lengthy articles/essays and qualitative/quantitative research to inform.  Not only does this continue the disspatialized understanding society already has on so may crucial subjects, but it disregards the individual spirit that has been incarcerated and left to wonder if they ever really existed.

I have to do a lot of reading in my research for this project, and the element I see most frequently in my readings are numbers and quotes supporting or countering one methodology, theory or whatnot.  The individuals providing the information are lost in the data sets as are the readers.   Those inside are quoted and their voices edited to fit the purpose of the essay, the book, or the point being made.

Prisoners are not data.  The internal prison condition cannot be understood when edited or categorized.

What is lacking horribly, probably because it takes more time than most want to invest, is turning up the volume of that inner voice.  We talk about education, re-entry, recidivism and living conditions, but we rarely acknowledge the one thing that affects all of these others.  The spirit of the people they apply to.

With that said, my project has taken a formidable turn.  The name will change and my goal will change.   The blog will change.  It’s all taking shape now, with help from some very experienced individuals.

I introduce the first of many first-hand voices of value:

  • From Corrections to College: The Value of a Convict’s Voice by Leyva, Martin and Christopher Bickel (2010); Western Criminology Review 11(1):50-60.
  • Abstract: The rise in mass incarceration has been accompanied by an abandonment of first-hand, in-depth accounts of crime and incarceration. Too few criminologists have stepped foot inside a prison, let alone served time within its walls. Situated within a growing movement of convict criminology, this article provides a first-hand account of the abuse convicts often experience in the home, the streets, and later in prison. Breaking from the traditional scholarly format, this autobiographical article not only highlights the importance of a convict’s voice, but also calls on criminologists to move beyond official data sources and crime reports to a more in-depth exploration of complex lives of the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated.

Bureau of Justice Statistics – This will be a huge undertaking!

December 5, 2010 § 1 Comment

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)

There are several distinct sub-populations of prisoners, inmates, etc. within the entire system.  NPJP aims to reach all of them.  But, then I wonder, would it be better to reach the population of a particular sentence length?

Then I go back to the long conversation with myself, every time I broach this subject of target audience.  “Something we print may be read by someone affect someone as powerfully with a 1 day sentence as it may  with someone serving 100 years.”

So I go back to reaching the entire federal prisoner, state prisoner and county prison population.  What an undertaking!

Now onto the STATS I’m currently looking at:

The Bureau of Justice Statistics maintains several collections to compile data on prisoners and prison facilities using administrative records maintained by the each state’s department of corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons and personal interviews with inmates in state and federal prisons… State and federal prisoner populations differ from the jail inmate population in terms of conviction status, offense distribution, and average length of stay. The federal prisoner population is also unique from the state prisoner population, most notably in the offense distribution. Similarly, prison facilities differ from local jail facilities in average size, treatment and programming resources, and crowding, among other characteristics.

Using information gathered from these data series, BJS regularly publishes reports and tables of prison population counts, prisoner characteristics, facility characteristics, capital punishment, deaths, and assorted special topics, such as recidivism, substance abuse and treatment, mental health, education, and incarcerated parents.

Summary findings

Latest statistics:

State and federal prisoners –

State and federal prison facilities –

  • From June 30, 2000, to December 30, 2005, the number of state and federal correctional facilities increased by 9%, from 1,668 to 1,821. The number of inmates held in these facilities increased by 10%, while the number of correctional employees rose 3% (Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 2005)
  • Private correctional facilities (up 151) accounted for nearly all of the increase in the number of adult correctional facilities between June 30, 2000, and December 30, 2005. Most of the growth in private correctional facilities during this period was in facilities under contract to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 2005.)

This information brings up much more to be considered:

  • The fluidity of the population – how many issues will be sent to a facility.  People are released, apprehended, voluntarily surrendering and escaping everyday.
  • The sharing tendency among the prison population – often magazines and papers pass through multiple prisoner hands, prison units and sometimes sit in a “public” library.  These leave the opportunity to send in fewer issues with the belief that they will be circulated via a natural process.
  • 1.6 million is a lot of people. The race, class and education distribution can vary greatly. How do we develop content that will appeal across these lines?  Do we want a journal that does that or one that does not fear to address particulate issues that may endanger it in some institutions? An example is found here: Banned in Texas Prisons:  Books…
  • Nearly 2,000 correctional facilities with a mixture of government and private management could also prove an interesting undertaking.  But I’m wondering if as a private journal with the intention to educate the populations will ease many barriers that have fallen other papers that purposely feed the divisions the current penal thought culture.
  • NON PRISON POPULATION. It is equally as important to reach these people.  They are the lawyers defending and prosecuting.  They are the wives, husbands, partners, children and other family members left behind.  They are the judges sentencing.  They are the politicians advocating both sides.  They are the researchers dreaming of more access to a broader spectrum the prison population.  They are the academics that write on about the incarcerated, who would be able to write TO them.  They are the ex-offenders that can ease the anxiety of not knowing what re-entry will really bring by sharing their experiences on a vast scale.

NPJP is about bringing the marvelous efforts of the many individuals and organizations out there helping a few at a time to the entire population.  So often we hear stories about people we wish we could have reached out to, with a message that would have really helped them.  NPJP’s goal of a national prison journal is like being in front of an anxious audience of 2 million strong waiting to hear your message.

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