Friday, February 20, 2004

Helping Prisoners Find Their Way Home?

Program Pairs Ex-Convicts With Houses of Worship, [? Religious Bondage.]

Antonio Pinder used to be scared of returning home from prison, stricken by fear that he would fall back into the life that landed him behind bars. He hadn't had a steady job before he was sent away 13 years ago, and he worried that he never would. A year out of prison, he is still searching for work.

But perhaps more important than a job, he says, what he's found since his release from a federal prison in West Virginia is the resilience to carry him through the inevitable setbacks that bedevil many ex-offenders coming home.

For that, Pinder credits the efforts of the mentors who have been working with him and with dozens of other returning inmates, [prisoners], as part of a program that gives churches, mosques and other religious organizations an instrumental role in shepherding such men and women back into the community.

Launched in 2002, the Faith Community Partnership is run by the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, the federal office that serves as the District's probation and parole administrator.

Marked by a criminal record, Pinder is one of the many ex-offenders who find it difficult to land good work. For too many of them, that is the first step on a path right back to prison.

Pinder, 35, could well have been one of those who tripped up. So far, he has found only periodic work through a temp agency. He'd like to work for Metro as a bus driver. For now, though, what he has is hope. And that, he said, is thanks to the efforts of the new faith partnership. Now in its second full year, the program costs about $300,000 annually, most of which is used to pay for the administrative staff who coordinate the program.

[What about ex prisoners as mentors? Because the best mentors have been there. Giving $300,000 annually to mostly pay for administrative staff is just corporate welfare.]

From Pilgrim Baptist Church to the Founding Church of Scientology, 42 institutions have signed on to help mentor offenders. About 200 mentors are working with about 100 convicts like Pinder. "It just gives you that spiritual stability," he said. "You feel someone cares about you other than yourself."

[Just plain propaganda. Certainly he felt someone cared but why not pay the community and give ex-offenders a job instead of paying faith based corporate welfare.]

For Pinder, one of those people was Wanda L. Jackson, who works with a group called Reintegrating Alternatives Personal Program, or RAPP.

The organization is housed at the Faith Tabernacle Church of Prayer in Southeast Washington and draws many of its volunteers from the church.

They linked up even before Pinder was released from prison, where he was serving time for cocaine distribution. Those final days before his release were fraught with anxiety. "I didn't know what to expect. I was paranoid, paranoid of going back in the same situation because I couldn't get a job," he said. "I went into prison when I was 22 years old. I grew up in prison."

So as his release date neared, he started telephoning Jackson, one of three mentors he would eventually find through the partnership. "Every Sunday morning, I was calling," he said. And Jackson was already embracing him, if only over the phone. "I would drop everything and talk to him. I think it helped prepare him. . . . I felt his apprehension."

The mentoring program, spawned amid the Bush administration's enthusiasm for faith-based programs of all sorts, has drawn an increasing number of institutions into its fold, said Paul A. Quander Jr., director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. And as word of the program and the opportunities it presents has spread among inmates, [prisoners], interest from those who are soon to be returning has spread as well, coordinators in the program say.

[George Bush's faith base enthusiasm is drawn for electioneering and votes not based on any faith about good but all about evil. The idea is that Bush grants federal money to faith based welfare to mentor prisoners and in return he gets faithful votes.]

To be eligible to participate, a returning inmate, [prisoner], cannot be a convicted sex offender, cannot have a severe substance abuse problem and cannot have multiple convictions for violent crimes.

Many inmates, [prisoners], are challenging their status as violent offenders in an effort to be eligible for the program, said Abubakr Muhammad Karim, reentry director for the East of the River Clergy-Police-Community Partnership. "What's happening is the guys that are in prison are starting to recognize the success of the guys who were in the program," Karim said.

A new video link between Washington and the federal prison in North Carolina that houses more D.C. inmates, [prisoners], than any other prison has helped the offenders and future mentors begin forging bonds weeks or months before inmates are actually released.

One beneficiary was Joseph Johnson, 48, who was released from the prison on Jan. 22 after serving about 15 years behind bars, originally on drug distribution charges but more recently for violating his parole by using drugs. Like Pinder, Johnson has no regular job. He nearly landed a $17-an-hour carpenter's job on a construction project, but that fell through last week after only a couple of days. "When he said 'We can't use you,' I wasn't discouraged," he said.

But he was, at the very least, disappointed -- so much so that he didn't call his mentor, the Rev. Sharon Best of New Commandment Baptist Church in Northwest, who learned of his setback as he recounted it while speaking witha reporter. "I'm sorry, Ms. Best, I didn't call to tell you," he told her. "That's when you're supposed to call," she said.

"It didn't make me do anything bad," he replied in his own defense, alluding to the many days in his life when such a turn of events would have sent him looking for drugs. Instead, he went back to the list of prospective jobs and kept plugging away.

Within a couple of days, he had another job possibility lined up. "I got blessed," he said, "by keeping my composure." Helping inmates, [people], find that equilibrium amid the tumult in their lives is a part of what the mentoring is supposed to do. Along with the officers who are paid to keep track of the parolees, the mentors, all of them volunteers, are another set of ears and eyes.

Quander, a former prosecutor, knows that the program will be judged not on individual stories but by broader measures. "I can't rely merely on anecdotal tales of success," he said. "I have to rely on hard numbers."

By those hard numbers, the success of the program so far would appear to be modest. The re-arrest rate for D.C. ex-offenders has been falling generally, down to 17 percent in 2003 from 27 percent in 1999. About 15 percent of participants in the faith-based program are being re-arrested -- only a couple of percentage points below the overall rate, and several points above where Quander would like to see it. "If we can get into the single digits, I'll be very happy," he said.

When he took over the offender supervision office, Quander inherited a fledgling faith-based program. It didn't take him long, he said, to conclude that the program could form an integral part of the agency's efforts, particularly at a time when the city would be facing large influxes of people coming home from prison.

"When I looked at the program and what it was offering, and how we could take that to the next level and how we could make a difference, I thought it was not only worth keeping but expanding," Quander said.

The Rev. Herbert C. Bruce, of Pilgrim Baptist Church in Northeast Washington, said that although people were enthusiastic early on about helping, they were also unsure how it would all turn out.

"I think if you have a church saying they didn't go into this with trepidation, they're lying," Bruce said. "We didn't know what to expect."

What they have come to expect are successes like Shirley Hall, also jobless but nonetheless hopeful and enthusiastic about how God has come into her life with the help of her mentors at Upper Room Baptist Church in Northeast.

First sent to prison in 1986 on a heroin distribution charge, Hall served four years of a four-to-12-year sentence. But she couldn't steer clear of trouble once free, and twice landed back in prison.

Now back out -- for good, she hopes -- Hall, 40, is looking for a job. She actually had what she thought would be a good one. She was delivering packages for a courier service and the pay -- $600 a week -- seemed good, until she discovered that half of that would be deducted for use of the van.

Already she was enduring an arduous commute that forced her to leave around 4:30 a.m. and ride a bus from Naylor Road SE to Friendship Heights. There she would board a Metro train to Rockville. And in Rockville, she would catch a taxi for $6.50. It just didn't make sense. So she quit.

But she is confident. It took her a while to find her mentors, too. After three tries, she finally found people who are keeping her strong, among them Deborah Ford and the Rev. Catherine Bego of Upper Room Baptist.

"I don't worry about it," Hall said. "God got me. I'm going to get a job."

By Henri E. Cauvin posted 20 February 04

[Jib Jab]


US Prison system ending love affair with incarceration?
After 25 years of explosive growth in the U.S. prison system, is this country finally ending its love affair with incarceration? Perhaps, but as in any abusive relationship, breaking up will be hard to do.

CONS COMMIT CRIMES IN HASTE, NOW CAN REPENT AT LAWTEY - -- Gov. Jeb Bush, in a Christmas Eve address to prisoners at the nation's first ''faith-based'' prison, in North Florida.

CURE --- Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants
CURE --- is a nation-wide grass roots organization dedicated to reducing crime through reform of the criminal justice system.[Criminal Law System.]

The Truth About Private Prisons
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation's largest operator of prisons for profit, is celebrating its 20th anniversary throughout this year "at both the company's corporate Nashville office and at all of the more than 60 prisons, jails and detention centers under CCA ownership and/or management."

New National Study of Corrections Corporation of America Warns Investors and Legislators of Risky Investment. Report explores continuing operational and financial problems; questions CCA's long-term viability as states reassess prison policies.

Finally, States Release The Pressure on Prisons?
US: After decades of massive prison growth, America may be ending its love affair with incarceration. Policymakers around the country, some of whom previously supported ratcheting up punishments, have begun to rethink the wisdom of unbridled prison expansion, and are advocating alternatives to simply "locking them up and throwing away the key."

California Parole System Deemed 'Broken'
SACRAMENTO, Calif: California spends $1.5 billion annually on parolees who mostly fail and are sent back behind bars because they are no better prepared for life on the outside than the day they entered prison, according to a report.

People with Mental Retardation in the Criminal Justice System
Based on the 1990 census, an estimated 6.2 to 7.5 million people in the United States have mental retardation. Various studies have suggested between 2 percent to 10 percent of the prison population has mental retardation.

USA: With Cash Tight, States Reassess Long Jail Terms
OLYMPIA, Wash., Nov. 6 - After two decades of passing ever tougher sentencing laws and prompting a prison building boom, state legislatures facing budget crises are beginning to rethink their costly approaches to crime.

After a war waged by the U.S. military against Vietnam which took the lives of more than 3 million Vietnamese people and more than 58,000 GIs, the U.S. finally withdrew in 1975. It had suffered its first official major military defeat by a united people struggle led by the Vietnamese, along with a mass U.S. anti-war movement.

Report on State Prisons Cites Mental Illness
NEW YORK: Nearly one of every four New York State prisoners who are kept in punitive segregation [solitary confinement], confined to a small cell at least 23 hours a day are mentally ill, according to a new report by a nonprofit group that has been critical of state prison policies.

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US: Mentally Ill Mistreated in Prison More Mentally Ill in Prison Than in Hospitals (New York, October 22, 2003) Mentally ill offenders face mistreatment and neglect in many U.S. prisons, Human Rights Watch. "Prisons have become the nation's primary mental health facilities. But for those with serious illnesses, prison can be the worst place to be."

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San Francisco: October 18 In solidarity with other prison activist organizations, MIM, RAIL, the Barrio Defense Committee (BDC) and the Prison Reform Unity Project held a four hour rally in San Francisco demanding the Security Housing Units (SHUs) in California prisons be shut down.

Solitary Confinement: Mental illness in prisons
As noted earlier, inmates [prisoners] with mental illness are over represented in our toughest prison settings. Symptoms of mental illness (i.e., delays in response time, paranoia, difficulty interpreting the actions of others, command hallucinations, and so on) can make complying with prison rules difficult.

Post-Incarceration Sentences
Pat: "The 1990s brought a new front in the war on drugs, featuring a new layer of the Prison Industrial Complex, which has the effect of ensuring that people coming in contact with the criminal punishment system remain within the grasp of the Prison Industrial Complex even beyond prison walls."

Inside Prison, Outside the Law
Every year, tens of thousands of prisoners in state and federal custody are attacked. The exact number who die is difficult to determine: According to the nonprofit Criminal Justice Institute, in 2000, the most recent year for which figures have been compiled, 55 prisoners were murdered, 39 died "accidentally," and 118 died for unknown reasons.

Day Seven of the Fast for Freedom in Mental Health:
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Supreme Court Justice Criticises Sentencing Guidelines
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US prison population 2.1 million
The US prison population grew more than twice as fast last year as in 2001, bringing the total number of people held behind bars in the United States to more than 2.1 million, a record, according to a government report.

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.]

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
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