Private programs to tutor inmates have to contend with an environment that views volunteers with suspicion. The need to maintain security seems to outweigh all other considerations—including reform, writes a long-term resident of a Washington State penitentiary.
A new measure reclassifying minor drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors should cut the state’s nation-leading rate of incarcerating women. But “we’re not going to be able to reverse the trend overnight,” says former House Speaker Kris Steele.
Assaults on North Carolina prison personnel had increased this year even before a deadly escape attempt Oct. 12 at Pasquotank Correctional Institute. Two officers, a vocational instructor and a maintenance worker were killed, and four inmates are charged with murder.
Last month, 16 percent of the state’s prison officer positions were vacant, up from 9 percent in January 2016. Better staffing might have saved the lives of the five prison employees who died in attacks this year at two prisons.
Inmates were working in the prison’s sewing plant when they tried to carry out the escape plan last month. The inmates beat employees with hammers and stabbed them with scissors, according to prison workers who called 911. Some current and former prison officers questioned whether the inmates with violent histories should have been put to work in a sewing plant, where they would have access to potentially lethal tools.
It’s the first step in a comprehensive criminal justice package aimed at cutting prison populations in a state with the nation’s highest incarceration rate. Most of the prisoners being freed are serving their sentences in local parish prisons.
As of late September, Pennsylvania had 1,235 inmates in disciplinary cells — 2.6 percent of the prison population — up from 2.3 percent in 2015. Corrections Secretary John Wetzel has vowed to reduce “segregation” of prisoners.
David Guice will retire on November 1. His departure was announced 11 days after two prison employees were killed during a failed escape attempt. “Perhaps the problems start at the top,” says a state representative whose district includes the prison. A corrections officer was beaten at another prison in April, and the Charlotte Observer has reported on drug, sex and gang violence problems in the corrections system.
Many of those fighting California fires are inmates who are paid $1 an hour. Chandra Bozelko, who was paid 75 cents to $1.75 daily to make and serve casserole, says, “It doesn’t surprise me that prison work assignments are credited with reducing recidivism. Any change for good that happened within me while I was incarcerated grew out of my job.”