AP Reports Florida's New Goal: Rehabilitate Prisoners
INCARCERATION has three purposes: (a) punishment, (b) crime prevention, and (c) inmates' rehabilitation. America's prisons are accused of concentrating almost singularly on (a) and (b), while seemingly ignoring the fact that most prisoners are not doing life sentences without parole; about 90% have a release date. How ex-convicts fare after prison release and the safety of their communities depend heavily on how well the Department of Corrections handles its rehabilitation responsibilities. The Associated Press reports that Florida is beginning to apply more effort to rehabilitating prisoners to enable inmates to function better in society upon release and avoid recidivism.
Unfortunately, rehabilitation programs do not address the needs of acute mental patients who often suffer in solitary confinement in prisons. (See important video below showing an inside view of solitary confinement). However, rehabilitation programs should help inmates in the general population immensely
"We are embarking upon changing the mind-set of the way we in our state deal with inmates that are being released," said [Florida's] Department of Corrections head, Walter McNeil.
See excerpts from the AP report below, and the full article is available at the link provided.
New Fla. Prison's Goal to Help Inmates Re-Enter Society, Make Them Less Likely to Re-Offend
By Jessica Gresko
March 19, 2009
(AP) - Warden Rod James sticks his head into a classroom at his prison. Inmates in pale blue uniforms are sitting behind desks doing math problems. James has a pop quiz.
"What are we trying to do here?" he says, asking not about the math problems, but the prison.
Trying to make sure inmates don't return to prison, one man says. Getting an education, another says. True, but James hasn't heard what he wants to hear.
"Change," another man says.
That satisfies the warden. He asks the same question of inmates all over the prison — in a substance abuse class, in a chapel, in a computer class. He gets the same answer: "change," ''change," ''change."
Inmates may say they're trying to change, but the prison James heads, Demilly Correctional Institution in Polk County, is a change for the state. The 350-person, all-male facility, which will have an opening ceremony Friday, is the first Florida prison to focus on "re-entry" or reintegrating prisoners into society. Other states, including California, Kansas, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, also have re-entry programs.
Almost 90 percent of Florida's nearly 100,000 prisoners will be released at some point. But a third will also be back within three years. The point of Demilly, a former juvenile facility, is to help bring that rate down. And the Department of Corrections' overall goal is to halve the number of ex-prisoners returning to lockup within the next five years. They're working on another facility like Demilly near Jacksonville and plan at least two more around the state.
"If we can stop the growth," said Department of Corrections spokeswoman, Gretl Plessinger, "then we'll be able to stop building."
(The full article, available at the above link, is well worth reading.)
The last few days have brought what many consider to be good news regarding America's system of law and order. On March 13, Joseph Fears, 61, was released from prison after being exonerated of rape charges when results from a DNA test proved him to be innocent. Mr. Fears served 25 years in an Ohio correctional facility, suffering incarceration since he was age 35. Although many of his close relatives have passed on, Mr. Fears was nevertheless greeted by a crowd of elated supporters.
Another good report comes from Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Supreme Court is deliberating whether all prisoners should have the right of post-conviction DNA testing. (UPDATE: The High Court determined that post-conviction DNA testing is not a right on June 18 in the case of District Attorney's Office v. Osborne.) Six states do not have laws providing for any post-conviction DNA testing, and some other states only give the right to test to death row inmates. (UPDATE: Three more states added post-conviction DNA testing rights for some inmates.) Faultless DNA testing was available 20 years ago. Since 1989, 232 innocent prisoners, including some who were sentenced to death, were exonerated by DNA evidence ahead of Mr. Fears. He spent 20 more years in prison after sophisticated DNA testing methods were available. Many innocent prisoners are likely in Joseph Fears former position today. The Innocence Project reports that it has many more applicants seeking to prove their innocence with DNA testing.
Other good news came from New Mexico. On March 18, Governor Richardson agreed with New Mexico's legislators' vote last week to repeal the death penalty. Inmates on New Mexico's death row will now have their sentences commuted to life in prison without the chance of parole.
Further details regarding those news accounts are accessible at this link: www.nowpublic.com/world/death-penalty-repealed-nm-senate-dna-frees-joseph-fears-oh
Florida's determination to promote prisoner rehabilitation by offering inmates educational opportunities is a positive step that may restore many prisoners to wholesome living and reduce the state's crime rate, thereby protecting citizens and saving tax dollars. Win, win, win situation. Florida is to be congratulated on its decision to make this positive change. It is indeed excellent news that 350 male inmates will benefit from this rehabilitation effort. Hopefully, the state's commitment to rehabilitation will spread throughout Florida's prison system and the rest of America.
Florida has an excellent online site carrying data relevant to its prisons and helping family members and concerned persons keep up with inmates' whereabouts. This is a major problem facing family members of prisoners across the country. The site at this link gives the following information for 2007: http://www.dc.state.fl.us/oth/faq.html
Total Facilities: 137
- for males: 120
- for females: 17
No. of Prisoners: 92,777
Percentage of Population [in regular detention]: 99.9%
Percentage in Work Release Centers: 3.2%
As the Department of Corrections endeavors to help prepare prisoners to rejoin society and decrease recidivism rates, it is important to remember that approximately 1.25 million of America’s inmates are mentally ill. Whereas other prisoners stand to benefit from the Department of Correction’s rehabilitation programs, acute mental patients need more help regaining and retaining their freedom.
Last fall, the nation’s Congress passed the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Law to address some of the problems facing America’s most vulnerable citizens. Many acute mental patients were turned out of our nation’s metal hospitals by the hundreds of thousands to fend for themselves during the 1970’s and 80’s. The downsizing and closing of mental treatment facilities also impacted America’s next generation of mentally challenged citizens, because available inpatient treatment was already reduced drastically before many of them were born. Congress passed and President Bush approved laws in 2008 that positively impact the lives of mentally challenged citizens and their families. Yet, more help is needed.
A program that New York implemented for a number of mentally ill offenders seems to be the best answer for reducing the number of mentally ill Americans in the prison system. It is an enforced outpatient commitment program called Kendra's Law. Participants receive mandatory outpatient treatment and subsistence assistance if they qualify financially.
When compared to their experience three years prior to participation in the Kendra’s Law program, recipients experienced 74% less homelessness, 77% less hospitalizations, 83% less arrests, and 87% less incarcerations.
The 111th Congress showed its concern for mentally ill Americans and their families in 2008. Yet, our mentally challenged citizens needlessly face homelessness, prison and death. Hospitalization costs no more than treatment during imprisonment for violent mental patients, and Kendra’s Law for nonviolent mental patients would restore most participants to wholesome lives within their communities. Assisted outpatient treatment substantially improved the lives of participants in other ways, as described in greater detail in a blog by Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC). See this link: http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org
Therefore, America already has a proved method to practically eliminate homelessness, prison, and death among citizens who are mentally ill and revolve in and out of the prison system. They often suffer longer periods of incarceration than other inmates, and their sentences are frequently lengthened after imprisonment due to an inability to understand and obey prison rules.
Today, approximately 25,000 of America’s inmates are enduring solitary confinement, and more than 60% of them are mentally ill. Americans tend to think of solitary confinement as punishment against prisoners for offenses done while already incarcerated and against death row inmates. However, thousands of mental patients are routinely assigned to solitary confinement to promote their safety and to keep order in the prisons, which were never intended to be mental hospitals.
THIS VIDEO SHOWS THE HORRORS SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, AND REVEALS WHY SOME CALL IT PRISON TORTURE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEs3BQ0znAs
Prisoners in solitary confinement exist sometimes for years in 9’ x 6’ cells like those shown on the film. Even our acute mentally ill citizens are confined for 23 hours a day, deprived of any human contact, with the overhead florescent lights constantly on. What’s worse, the lights are sometimes constantly off, leaving them in a dark, soundproof, coffin-like place referred to as the “hole.” This can do nothing to help them recover their mental faculties, and no one can be punished or rehabilitated into a state of mental health.
More inpatient hospitals must be opened and expanded to rescue 1.25 million Americans with mental disabilities from prisons and jails. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) addresses the issue below:
"What we have now is trans-institutionalization," says Andrew Sperling, legislative director for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. People with mental illness leave acute or chronic care facilities without adequate provisions for their housing or support, and end up sliding into homeless shelters or the criminal justice system,” Sperling says.
Below is a petition for a schizophrenic young man who has been in solitary confinement in a California prison for a year. He hit another mental patient. The Chief Psychologist informed Jeremy Smith’s mother last week that Jeremy’s condition is gravely serious, but he is not receiving psychiatric care, and there are apparently no plans to move him from solitary confinement: See Jeremy’s picture and read his situation at the link below:
Justice4Jeremy Petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/JusticeForJeremy
It is excellent news that Florida is making strides to improve in the area of prisoner rehabilitation. Hopefully, the momentum Florida is showing for CHANGE will spread throughout America, and this country will someday decide to deliver Americans with mental disabilities from living like animals in dungeons, as in the 14th century.
Florida and New Mexico, thank you for helping to lead the way to needed Change in America's criminal justice system.
Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill.