Tuesday, July 22, 2003

McKean Federal Prison: An Alleged Model

McKean, a federal correctional institution [? prison], does everything that "make 'em bust rocks" politicians decry--imagine, educating inmates [prisoners]! And it works. [Allegedly works.]

Also see the transcript of an online conference in which Robert Worth discusses the American prison system.

Approaching McKean, the federal correctional institution in Bradford, Pennsylvania, one is not likely to think of a prison. The buildings, low and modern, display a pseudo-Navajo motif in soft gray and salmon colors. In the air-conditioned entryway there are carpets over an immaculate tile floor, the glimmer of polished glass, the green tint of tropical plants. Tasteful couches sit in the corners.

[But the prisoners are still locked away and denied basic services.]

Well-dressed employees walk up and down the stairs [prison guards], speaking in hushed, respectful tones. Beyond, on the prison grounds, are a broad expanse of well-tended lawn and distant athletic fields. Inmates [prisoners] walk alone or in pairs along the concrete pathways, offering greetings as they pass.

Across the compound inmates [prisoners] sit quietly in classrooms, learning everything from basic reading skills to masonry, carpentry, horticulture, barbering, cooking, and catering. Next door is a multi-denominational chapel.

The cellblocks are cramped but clean and orderly, with a weekly inspection score posted on the wall. "With visitors, it's like a joke, to see how long before they compare this place to a college campus," one prison staff member says.

[One prison staff member would say that because that's his/her job!]

This prison and others like it are the targets of a fierce campaign that is changing the shape of the U.S. criminal-justice system. For several years journalists and politicians all over the country have spoken and written angrily about such prisons as "resorts" or "country clubs."

[Because they've never lived in a prison.]

They have railed against a philosophy of rehabilitation that "coddles" inmates with too many amenities. Punishment is in vogue, along with hard labor and "no frills" prisons, stripped of weight rooms, TVs, and computers.

Republicans in Congress have added a no-frills-prison section to the Contract With America's "Take Back Our Streets Act," and they have passed it as an amendment to the 1994 crime bill.

Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld has argued that prisons should be "a tour through the circles of hell," where inmates [prisoners] should learn only "the joys of busting rocks."

Alabama has already reinstituted the chain gang, forcing inmates [prisoners] to do hard labor in leg irons for up to ten hours a day.

State administrators and sheriffs, sniffing the political wind, have begun to crack down, cutting educational and treatment programs, making prison life as harsh as possible.

[Just began, just plain rubbish!]

Yet McKean, by several measures, may well be the most successful medium-security prison in the country. Badly overcrowded, housing a growing number of violent criminals, it costs taxpayers approximately $15,370 a year for each inmate [prisoner.]

That is below the average for prisons of its type, and far below the overall federal average of $21,350. It is about two thirds of what many state prisons cost. And the incident record since McKean opened, in 1989, reads like a blank slate: No escapes. No homicides. No sexual assaults. No suicides.

In six years there have been three serious assaults on staff members and six recorded assaults on inmates [prisoners.] State prisons of comparable size often see that many assaults in a single week.

The American Correctional Society [The New World Order] has given McKean one of its highest possible ratings. No recidivism studies have been conducted on its former inmates [prisoners], but senior staff members claim that McKean parolees return to prison far less often than those from other institutions, and a local parole officer agrees.

[Why wouldn't a local parole officer agree?]

According to the Princeton University criminologist John DiIulio, "McKean is [allegedly] probably [?] the best-managed prison in the country. And that has everything to do with a warden named Dennis Luther."

[No affilliation?]

Dennis Luther is a slim man of fifty with thinning brown hair and wide, curious eyes. He retired last July, after sixteen years as a warden. He dresses neatly in a jacket, a tie, and tasseled loafers, more like an English professor than a prison administrator.

His movements are slow and deliberate, and his voice has an uncanny steadiness to it. He is not a large man, but it is easy to imagine him walking unarmed into the center of a prison riot and asking calmly to speak to the leaders.

As a young man, Luther considered going into the ministry. He chose corrections instead, and soon came to believe that American prisons were unnecessarily brutal places, more likely to teach hatred and violence than remorse.

But, he says, that insight did not lead him to a liberal philosophy of inmate [prisoner] rehabilitation. Instead he read up on business management. He saw no reason why ideas that had worked in the private sector could not be applied to prisons, to make them more cost-effective and more humane.

What he came up with was a systematic approach to building something he calls "prison culture." All prisons, according to Luther, have a culture of some sort, but it is generally violent and abusive, based on gangs. Prison staffs are aware of this culture, but they are helpless to change it. [?]

The root of Luther's approach is an unconditional respect for the inmates [prisoners] as people. "If you want people to behave responsibly, and treat you with respect, then you treat other people that way," Luther says.

McKean is literally decorated with this conviction. Plaques all over the prison remind staff members [guards] and inmates [prisoners] alike of their responsibilities; one of these plaques is titled "Beliefs About the Treatment of Inmates [prisoners.] " There are twenty-eight beliefs, the product of Luther's many years as a warden, and they begin like this:

1. Inmates [prisoners] are sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment.

2. Correctional workers [and guards] have a responsibility to ensure that inmates [prisoners] are returned to the community no more angry or hostile than when they were committed.

3. Inmates [prisoners] are entitled to a safe and humane environment while in prison.

4. You must believe in man's [or woman's] capacity to change his [her] behavior.

5. Normalize the environment to the extent possible by providing programs, amenities, and services. The denial of such must be related to maintaining order and security rather than punishment.

[However, maintaining order and security overrides common sense, most of the time, regardless, which is definitely no normal.]

6. Most inmates [prisoners] will respond favorably to a clean and aesthetically pleasing physical environment and will not vandalize or destroy it.

To a visitor, McKean's "clean and aesthetically pleasing" environment is its most striking feature. Impressions gleaned from Midnight Express, Judge Dredd, or an ordinary state prison are out of place here.

[Give or take the rhetoric, change or grammar, and bullshit in this article?]

Luther insists that these physical details help to maintain order, just as the programs do.

During my visit, as he led me past the special housing unit that is known in most prisons as "the hole" [torture in solitary confinement] to the recreation area, a group of inmates [prisoners] appeared in the distance, jogging on a circular track around an athletic field. "Some of the staff think there's too much recreation here," he told me. "Most think it's important.

On a summer evening you've got three to five hundred men in this rec yard, with three staff. If you had less recreation, you'd need more staff. There's a clear economic advantage. You'd definitely have more fights. We do surveys every year, and they show that as inmates [prisoners] get more involved in the rec program, they get in less trouble. Also, they tend to have less health trouble, and that saves money."

The Atlantic Online.

By Robert Worth Posted 22 July 03

Ed: He works for the feds!


Prisoners Justice Day Press Release (Montreal)
On August 10th, 1974, Eddie Nalon bled to death in a solitary confinement unit at Millhaven Maximum Security Prison near Kingston,Ontario when the emergency call button in his cell failed to work. An inquest later found that the call buttons in that unit had been deactivated by the guards.

Notebook of a Prison Abolitionist
In his autobiography, Frederick Douglass recalls how as a slave he would occasionally hear of the "abolitionists." He did not know the full meaning of the word at first, but he heard it used in ways that he found appealing.

Study Warns of Rising Tide of Released Prisoners
Washington: More than 625,000 former prisoners will be coming back into U.S. society this year, part of a record flow of prisoners who will face crushing obstacles in finding work and housing and repairing long-fractured family ties, according to a newly released study.

Incite Statement Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex
We call social justice movements to develop strategies and analysis that address both state AND interpersonal violence, particularly violence against women.

Second International Conference on Human Rights & Prison Reform
**This second gathering will be much smaller and more in depth in participation. A report on the human rights violation of discrimination in regard to prisoners will be produced. This report will be given to the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights which will be having its annual meeting near our conference and is the"think tank" for the human rights agenda of the United Nations.

Judged Forever- The Orange County Register
US: California's largest job-placement program for parolees will be shut down May 31 after an Orange County Register investigation found that ex-convicts were sent to questionable jobs [?] and that the state was charged for placements that did not occur. [? According to the ruling-class]

California Family Visiting Case
US: CALIFORNIA: Today (5/03/08) in Superior Court around twenty friends and family members of inmates from CSP Solano showed up to show their support in the Gordon vs. CA Department of Corrections (Case #322862) which deals with the subject of bringing back Family Visits to all inmates.

Prison Rates Among Blacks Reach a Peak, Report Finds
An estimated 12 percent of African-American men ages 20 to 34 are in jail or prison, according to a report released yesterday by the Justice Department.

Justices question prison visitation policies
WASHINGTON: In a case that could affect the visitation rights of millions of prisoners, Supreme Court justices on Wednesday struggled with the question of whether inmates have a constitutional right to visits with friends and family.