Crime

English: A bunch of Razor Wire atop a chain li...

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England exiled its criminals to the US, and after the American Revolution, they sent them to Australia. At the time, crime was thought to be inherent or genetic; if you committed a crime, you could not be rehabilitated. In essence, you and your descendents carried a fatal stain in the blood that could never be eradicated. The journey to Australia was a long one and many prisoners died en route if they had no friends to help them prepare for the journey. The fortunate ones carried citrus with them to prevent scurvy.

In Wildness and Razor Wire, Ken Lamberton demonstrated how important friends and family still are to surviving the prison experience. Today, it is the poor and minorities who compose the overwhelming majority of the prison population because they cannot afford qualified legal help and because the war on drugs is fought primarily against them. Our present attitude towards criminals has changed little from England’s attitude 250 years ago. All that has really changed is that we lock people in cells here rather than exile them to a foreign country.

Please see Smart on Crime | Tough on crime | Prison Reform

Wilderness and Razor Wire

English: Ken Lamberton reading in Amherst, MA ...

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Wilderness and Razor Wire, a Naturalist’s Observations from Prison by Ken Lamberton. Ken Lamberton was an award-winning teacher at age 27 when he made the grievous error of falling in love and running away with a student aged 14. He was arrested after two weeks and sent to prison for a total of 12 years served in a split sentence when he was released by one judge and returned to prison by an appellant panel. He was released in 2000 and has not returned to prison. His life story is different in that his wife and three children did not abandon him during the prison years. In fact, his wife returned to school to learn enough law to fight his case from outside prison.

In prison, Ken met Richard Shelton who was teaching creative writing at various prisons in the Arizona penal system. He began writing at the same time he observed the natural world that invaded the prison. He kept records of what he observed, made drawings and read voraciously. Wilderness and Razor Wire is about his prison experience and also about the people and the nature he observed while there. He was fortunate in that most of his sentence was served among other sex offenders where gang violence was minimal. He was brutally attacked and injured when he was mistakenly transferred into the general prison population.

Pets for prisoners were prohibited where he was incarcerated, but prisoners kept pets in defiance of the rules. Some prisoners kept insects and others had small rodents as pets. Lamberton observed that prisoners with pets were happier and less prone to violence. I think some prisons should experiment with allowing inmates to have pets. Lamberton observed that human contact, one person to another, or one man to pet, was essential to prisoner mental health. The most feared punishment was isolation from others, and that is the trend being followed in more and more prisons.

Please see Prison reform | America’s prisons

Evil

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There is so much evil in the world that we as human beings have an obligation to oppose. I have chosen US prisons as the evil against which to crusade. I am not sure why I chose prison reform as an issue; I have never been in jail or prison, and no one I know have either (at least as far as I know). Among the rich and famous, the cause often selected is one they or their loved one experienced personally.

None of us has the time or the resources to actively oppose all the world’s evils. I do not expect to see significant change in America’s prisons during my lifetime, but we must start somewhere, sometime. Some people are already trying to improve our prisons and/or ultimately eliminate them. That is now my goal too.

Some other evils for your consideration to oppose: hunger in the US. Speeding up disaster relief. We Americans are generous in responding to foreign tragedies; we must do more here at home. The easy availability of guns in the US leading to one shooting tragedy after another. Joblessness among minorities. Epidemic of drug use. Exploitation of the poor and the undocumented.  Unjust wars-torture. ET CETERA

So take your pick. There are plenty of evils to go around.

Please see America’s prisons | Prison reform | Tough on crime | Smart on Crime

Tough on crime

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There are crimes and there are criminals who deserve to be incarcerated for lengthy sentences or for life. Those crimes and criminals, however, are a distinct minority of the current prison population. The “get tough on crime” option should be applied only to those crimes and criminals who present a clear and present danger to the rest of us. We should consider shorter sentences or probation for everyone else.

The longer the sentence, the more difficult we make it for former prisoners to adjust to changed circumstances in society. Those of us not living in a prison are able to adjust to changes in society as they occur. Someone who has served three, five or more years in prison must adjust to those changes all at once as he/she struggles to find employment and learn to cope with the new demands of myriad small and large changes.

Technology is changing rapidly today and will continue to change rapidly tomorrow. Someone absent from society for years and returning now might be required to learn to pump his/her own gas, use self check-out at stores, acquire a cell phone, use an ATM for the first time and complete some transactions using computers and the internet because they are no longer available anywhere else. That is true now here in Utah in dealing with some state agencies and is probably coming to your state soon as a cost cutting measure.

If we truly want to return people to society after a prison sentence and not expect them inevitably to return, we really should consider making penalties certain and short. Making penalties certain is a proven deterrent, more so than a less certain harsh penalty. The shorter the sentence, the easier we make it for someone to return to a society that has not changed beyond recognition or beyond the returnee’s ability to fit in.

Before my recent retirement, I spent 20+ years in a healthcare setting taking x-rays for most of those years. I started my career using film, and then switched to digital systems. I was required to learn three different digital systems over the years. Taking an x-ray was the same in all cases, but processing the images differed in all four cases. The digital technologies differed in small, significant ways that required specialized knowledge that could only be acquired by months of experience. Job skills become stale without practice. In today’s economy, some employers are refusing to hire someone who is unemployed; they want someone with current job skills since job requirements are changing rapidly for some. If we imprison criminals for long sentences because we are “tough on crime”, we guarantee that any job skills that they possess will decay.

Please see Prison reform | America’s prisons | Smart on Crime

Prison reform

World map showing number of prisoners per 100,...

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The proper goal of prison reform is the elimination of prisons. Not just reducing the number of prisoners, eliminating prisons entirely. America invented prisons; we incarcerate the most prisoners both absolutely and as a percentage of population. Thus it is up to us to undo the damage we have done, both here and around the world, as we have exported the concept and the hardware to make it it happen.

Our first step should be to eliminate the profit motive in incarceration. If imprisonment is a profit center for someone or some organization, there is an incentive to increase profits by increasing imprisonment. That must stop immediately. It also presents a hardship for the friends and relatives of prisoners when the prisoners are relocated to for-profit prisons that are located at a distance.

There are approximately two million people imprisoned in the US at this time. When you consider the number of friends and relatives affected by the imprisonment, you can easily be referring to ten million plus US residents feeling some degree of negative impact.

The next step is to decriminalize victimless crimes, those of adult sex workers and drug users. Our prisons and courts are clogged with repeat offenders in non-violent crimes. This step would make our prison populations much smaller and easier to manage.

Next we must make school a positive experience for our poor and minority youth.  Their schools now are factories geared to produce a never-ending supply of new inmates for the prison system. Geoffrey Canada, author of the Harlem Children’s Zone, has developed a plan that actually works. The Obama administration is a supporter and will introduce Canada’s method to 20 additional urban areas.

The above actions taken together will reduce prison populations in my estimate by 75%. That will leave a prison population consisting of hard-core, violent prisoners, supermax prisoners in supermax cells. To be investigated: how much do we create supermax prisoners to fill the supermax cells? Certainly these prisoners will be the most difficult to remove from prisons and it may not be possible to accomplish a zero prison population within the lifetimes of those already imprisoned. More on this at a future date.

Finally, technology is making it possible to incarcerate people in their own homes using electronic devices. This may be the best option for crimes against property. I believe that incarceration at home would be cheaper than locking someone into a prison cell, and the prisoner would not be deprived of the support of friends and family.

In the 1850s, few could imagine a world without slavery. Today, few can imagine a world without prisons. Yet it is achievable. Our society would be a better place for those we now imprison and for their friends and family members without the dislocation and stigma of prison. It would be a better place for all of us without the expense of maintaining prisons if we are able to prevent most crimes and rehabilitate those who make mistakes.

Please see America’s prisons | Smart on Crime | Tough on crime