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Endurance

Endurance

By Davin Douma

             I was standing in my unit manager’s tiny office when I got the news.  It was four to one against.  There would be no parole for at least three more years.  I sat in the chair across from the desk and looked at a blank white wall.  One thought kept running through my head over and over again.  Why?

            I first saw the parole board in 1999 after I had served fifteen calendar years on my life sentence.  That was the minimum requirement before the board would even consider me.  There is a three step process involved where the prisoner first has to make it past a records review, then a personal appearance in front of the five member board, and then review by the state governor.  If you make it past all three you get out.  If at any point in the process you don’t get the votes, you’re stuck for at least three more years.

            I had been evaluated for parole four times and still hadn’t made it.  My unit manager shook his head and asked me the same question I had been asking myself.  “Why?”  He knew there wasn’t an answer, but he couldn’t help but ask anyway.

            I am one of those prisoners that gets along well with just about everyone.  I had plenty of education (three correspondence degrees), took lots of programs (everything the state offered), and was always recommended by the parole investigator, my case manager, and my unit manager.  I was a so-called model prisoner, but I could get nothing form the parole board.  What was worse was that most of the people I had known who came into the system when I did had already made it out.  Most of them had a lot less education, fewer programs, and worse conduct records.  There was something going on that I didn’t know or understand.  It was odd enough that even the prison staff were asking questions.

            My unit manager reached for the phone but then stopped.  “It wont do any good to ask.  You know that, right?”

            I nodded my head.  In Oklahoma a prisoner doesn’t have the right to know by what standard they will be judged by with the parole board.  If you don’t make it they don’t tell you why.  They don’t tell you that you haven’t served enough time or haven’t taken enough programs.  They don’t tell you that the politics aren’t right at the time and you have nothing coming.  You are simply kept in the dark and left wondering where you have fallen short.  It is the kind of dilemma that is completely frustrating.  How do you fix something that isn’t broken?  How do you find the solution to a problem when you don’t know what the problem is?

            Most people spend their whole lives struggling to find solutions to the problems they face.  I know because I do it myself everyday.  The struggle has become inherent in our western culture.  We believe that if we have a problem, we can find a solution to it.  We believe that there is an answer to everything.  Oddly enough, this isn’t true.

            The myth of problem solving begins when we are little kids.  Our parents tell us that we can be anything.  We can do anything.  We can go anywhere.  We are told that life has no limits and we are completely free.  The idea is a fine one, but it is not an accurate reflection of reality.  You might want to go on a year long trip sailing around the world, but who is going to pay for your kids to eat and the mortgage on your home.  You might want to become a NASCAR driver, but you’re now forty five and sweating a promotion at work.

            I’m not saying that dreams are not good things and goals should not be lofty.  But at the same time it is important to keep your life in perspective and understand your limitations.  There is nothing I can do to change the parole board’s votes.  There is no solution to that problem.

            Maybe I should make a distinction here about problems that are meaningful and problems that are not.  A flat tire is not a meaningful problem, it’s just a pain in the ass.  Not having a clean shirt to wear is not a meaningful problem.  Meaning, as it relates to problems, is about your quality and quantity of life.  Meaning is about the relationships you have with other people.  Meaning comes from things that matter and most dilemma’s in life don’t.  In short, there is a difference between what is merely annoying and what is actually painful.

            The real trick in life is not coming up with the answer that no one else sees.  It isn’t finding a solution to a problem that only appears insurmountable.  It is not about keeping a smile on your face no matter the personal destruction.  Most meaningful problems in life have no solution.  The question is not what you should do, but how much you can take.

            I call it endurance.  What you can endure is a true measure of your character.  How much hell can you put up with?  How much pain can you suffer?  How much disappointment does it take to fill your tanks?  When one of your parents die, how do you respond?  How do you act when your dog gets run over?  When the doctor tells you that you are dying, can you go on?  It is our species ability to endure anything that is our most powerful survival trait.

            Just look at what we have survived as a species.  Look at the wars.  Look at the death camps.  Look at the fallout from nuclear blasts.  Look at the black death and the yellow fever and leprosy.  Look at a child in a hospice.  Our endurance is our true strength.

            There is a trick to endurance that I learned a long time ago.  A trick that has served me well.  It is like a key to one of the basic understandings we learn from our life experiences.

            About ten years ago my father asked me a question in the prison visiting room.  At the time I had been in for fifteen years and they had been long and hard on us both.  He asked me how I did it.  He wanted to know how I had managed to survive all the years and all the hate and all the destruction that is prison life.  How had I done it and remained sane.  At first I wasn’t sure what to say, but then I saw it in a flash of understanding.  It was one of those rare epiphany moments where the light comes on in the mind and suddenly you can see clearly for the first time.

            The answer is acceptance.  When you don’t have a choice and there is no solution, you must accept the problem or it will destroy you.  You must endure it for however long it takes.  If there is no option, what else can you do.  Meaningful problems rarely have solutions.  The cops have the guns and the keys and I am a prisoner.  There is no solution to my parole problem.  I have to wait three more years and try again.  Endurance.

 Copyright 2010

Davin Douma

Should Teens be Sentenced to Die in Prison?

Here is a link to an article about the injustice of sentencing children to life in prison without parole.

Bonnie

http://voices.yahoo.com/imprisonment-unto-death-children-teens-4917928.html?cat=9

 

The Second Tragedy

The First Tragedy

By Bonnie Hall Gerson

 Brain research has shown that our young are not capable of controlling their impulses like most adults. The brain is still growing and changing in young people. Most juveniles under 18 cannot be as responsible as an adult when it comes to reasoning and long term consequences. They are also more vulnerable to intimidation.

Davin was placed in an adult  prison, “Granite,” at age 17. He was still weak and under-weight. He had just come out of the hospital after a nearly dying in the Tulsa county jail. Davin’s appendix had burst while he was being held. He was in excruciating pain and cried out for help for four days before a guard finally believed he was not faking and he was taken to a hospital. Surgery was performed three times. First a surgery to remove Davin’s infected, destroyed appendix and tissues. A scaffold of fabric mesh had to be stapled in to his abdomen to hold his organs in place. He had to be fed through a tube and was in critical condition. Second after months, he was sent back to the county jail with the wound left partly open so the infection could drain. He had trouble digesting the prison food. Davin went back to the hospital where they removed a section of his intestinal track and stitched him up. Two weeks later the infection started oozing through his scar. Then they re-opened him to drain off the infection. Then again, the doctors sent him back to jail with an open hole in his abdomen to be treated in prison.

When he got back to his cell this time, everything he owned had been stolen. Gone was his radio, his books, letters, pencils and art supplies.

Next Davin had to go through the stress of being tried as an adult for killing a 21 year old man. At that time he had no understanding of what was in store for him. He never told us or his attorneys his motive for the offence. We did not find out for seven years that at the age of 14 he was the victim of a sexual assault. I was never allowed to hug him or hold his hand.

Sexual assault does not justify Davin killing a young man and Davin regretted it his whole life. But sending juveniles to a maximum security prison is also a terrible injustice. At 17, with a hole in his side, weak from multiple surgeries and weighing a mere 90 pounds, Davin was sent to one of the most dangerous prisons in the country for adults. Davin was thrown to the wolves where only one out of a hundred who enters as a juvenile comes out alive. Tragic!

 

Why Do I Care?

This is a thought provoking article about sentencing children to death in adult prisons. A link to (YOS) Colorado’s youth offenders system. A must read for all mothers of youthfull offenders.

Bonnie

http://voices.yahoo.com/imprisonment-unto-death-children-teens-4917928.html?cat=9

Let’s Stop The Craziness

“America has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. 86,927 juveniles were behind bars by 2007. Violent crime is not responsible for the quadrupling of our incarcerated population in the United States. The prison population is increasing primarily due to public policy changes causing more prison sentences and lengthening time served, “three strike laws” and reductions in the avaliability of parole or early release. The”war on drugs” has increased incarcerations twelvefold since 1980. It is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison policy.” These statistics are from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

America, in my opinion has never cared much for her children. That is why we don’t insist on the best teachers and pay them well. We don’t put education first and try to give our children the best education in the world. Only in universities do we succeed as a nation. We don’t copy and use proven models that have worked for years, like the Montessori Schools. We are near the bottom of the list when it comes to elementary, secondary and high school performance.

We can spend billions, maybe trillions by now on a “war on drugs” that we will never win. When we could be spending some of that money to find out why we are so unhappy that we have to take drugs. Better drug intervention and treatment programs and providing more jobs for teens would help. We should be trying to fix this side of the drug problem. With determination, we stopped Polio. We are solving the Aids epidemic. We have the capacity to do so much good in the world. We can fix our incarceration problem!

Our prisons are full to the brim with juveniles and adults because of drugs. We are not winning the war. Don’t think they can’t get drugs in prison. They just pay a lot more for them and many times with their lives. Why do we keep on doing the same things for years upon years and expecting different results? Mothers, we have a lot of power. We can network with each other, write letters, send emails and we can vote. Let’s work together. Let’s start using our power to stop the craziness.

My son  did not have a drug problem. He was a boy who killed a man who sexually assaulted him.  He was only sixteen when he was incarserated. He never complained, but struggled to endure. His tragic story presents a practical solution on how to survive under terrible circumstances. Looking back, knowing now what he had to live with and how much he suffered I wish I had fought harder for him while he was imprisoned.  My son is gone now, but he showed me the way to help your sons and daughters. That is my mission!

By Bonnie Hall-Gerson

 

Education and Purpose Decrease Crime

Researchers have shown that increased education levels improve the likelihood that a person will stay out of prison. There is a strong connection between school failure and crime. A good education can provide people with marketable skills. This increases their chances of getting a good job and earning a decent living. Having a good job reduces the chance that a person will commit a crime.

The Common Good Forecaster, a project of both United Way and the American Human Development Project uses U.S. Census data to estimate the effect education has on many factors including crime. Their research indicates that one additional year of education can reduce crime levels. For example, if every adult in the state of New Mexico moved up one level in education the incarceration rate would fall by 60%. The number of people returning to prison would also drop. This is why rehabilitation and education of prisoners is so important. Unfortunately the opportunity to get a good education or to learn a marketable trade in prison are few and far between. This needs to change to reduce recidivism.

You can see the Common Good Forecaster  website at: http://apps.unitedway.org/forecaster .

A good education can also keep many of our young people from ever being incarcerated. I have been teaching students how to study, how to to learn more easily, and how to succeed in high school and college. I also teach them how to discover a purpose in life worth pursuing. When they find a work purpose then their education becomes important because they are motivated to prepare for this purpose. When they know how they want to contribute to society it gives them passion and a sense of direction.

We need to help young people to discover their talents, to find a purpose that they feel passionate about and to awaken their potential. If we do this most of these kids will not commit crimes and will never be incarcerated.

Best regards,

Raymond Gerson

 

Davin’s Memorial Web Site

Here is a link to my son Davin’s memorial website:

http://www.forevermissed.com/davin-douma

My warmest regards,

Bonnie

Photo of Raymond and Bonnie Gerson

Image

Davin Jake Douma

Davin Jake Douma

October 1967-January 2012

Aside

Prison Reform Model Proposal by Davin Douma

Prison Reform

Exploring A Cost Effective

Incarceration Model

By Davin J. Douma

Contents_________________________________

Introduction 3

The Dilemma 4

Architecture & Classification 8

The Solution 11

Summation 16

Diagrams & Explanations 17

Cost Estimates 20

Introduction______________________________

The American correctional structure has been in the midst of a heart attack for two centuries.  What follows is my version of CPR.

The Dilemma_____________________________

The problems in our prison system haven’t just suddenly appeared from the recent past.  In fact, we’ve been struggling as a nation with the core issues of incarceration since we opened the very first facility.  Most experts consider the Walnut Street Jail to have been the first.  It was opened in Pennsylvania in 1790.  Since then there have been a number of reform movements that attempted to fix the problems, but none of them have had any lasting effects.  The last great reform push in the United States was in the late sixties to mid seventies.  The problems then were violence, overcrowding, recidivism, inadequate funding, and riots that attracted both public and judicial attention.  The problems we face today are exactly the same as they were then.  Violence, overcrowding, recidivism, and limited resources.

In my opinion, the experts in this field have incorrectly identified not only the solutions to correctional problems, but they have missed seeing the real problems completely.  They see money as the core issue, meaning state legislatures keep passing tougher sentencing laws and don’t provide the funding to pay for them.  Politicians with unrealistic sentencing schemes are nothing new.  But I don’t actually think the prison system is under-funded.  In fact, I think they get to much money and don’t use is appropriately.  A correctional expert will probably think that statement is off the mark, but a bottomless purse promotes stagnation of the status quo, not ingenuity.

The seed of our problems go all the way back to that first prison in 1790.  Back then the people who designed, built, and operated the place had an idea about what they needed.  They built a prison that they believed would serve the purposes of the times.  Whether or not it succeeded is a debate for historians, but one thing is for sure, the methods of designing, building, and operating a prison in 1790 are not effective today.  Look closely at a so-called modern prison.  The core of what we do in corrections is still the same.  It has not fundamentally changed in 220 years.  Take a prisoner from a modern facility and send him back in time and he will recognize the Walnut Street Jail for what it is.  A prison guard then does the same thing a prison guard does now.  We could take guards from the past and trade them with the present and they would know the job.  One would think that there should have been some improvements over the past 220 years, but there have not been.  Not on a fundamental level.  The basic architecture and operations are the same, and they are driven by the same management mentality and political goals.

We should never forget that prisons serve an essential social purpose.  They protect society from violent predators, punish the guilty for their crimes, and rehabilitate the wayward citizen.  There are other social purposes that may or may not be included here, but these three are fundamental and I think everyone would agree on them.  Keep in mind these are purposes, not existing qualities.  We can debate how well the system achieves these purposes, but the social value of them is beyond debate.  I like a simple model to work from for the sake of discussion.  The three legs of the correctional-purpose are protection, punishment, and rehabilitation.

I think the system does not fulfill any of its social purposes.  My view, from the inside out, is one that I think many experts would not agree with.  Many experts would say that although rehabilitation is now politically incorrect, and not truly a focus anymore, the protection and punishment aspects of corrections does work.  I see their point, but don’t agree with it.  The vast majority of people in the prison system today will be released back into society.  If protecting society as a purpose is only limited to a brief period of time, the duration of a sentence, then I would concede the point.  I don’t think protection is a short term goal.  Turning car thieves into burglars and burglars into armed robbers is not protecting society.  Creating and supporting a criminal sub-culture is not protecting society.  Wasting hundreds of millions of tax dollars is not protecting society.  The systems greatest failure, in my opinion, is its production of criminals worse after release than when they went to prison in the first place.  To say the system protects society is pure satire.

The second social purpose of prison, punishment, is a bit arbitrary.  How does one determine if the punishment meted out is adequate to the crime?  I think we give out sentences that are ridiculously large, but I’m a prisoner and not a victim of violent crime.  Victims have their own perspective.  How much time is enough for a given crime?

In one generation we have gone from giving out five years for robbery to giving out fifty years for robbery.  Are the robberies today different in some way, magnified in some way, that justifies a sentence ten times greater?  Do we really need to send non-violent pot heads to prison for life?  Is anyone actually capable of serving a thousand year sentence?  These are all questions that can not be addressed in a correctional environment.  These issues are about politics and judges, not prisons and correctional workers.  I will say only one more thing in regards to sentencing.  The premise of punishment is the same regardless of the transgressor.  When a child does something they shouldn’t, they get punished.  Grounding for a month makes sense, but grounding for ten months does not.  If you are a person who subscribes to spanking, there is surely no place for the idea that if you just hit children harder they will learn.  This is the sentencing model we now apply to convicted criminals.  If five years is good, fifty is better.  There is a difference between punishing someone and destroying them.

However, there is an aspect of punishment that corrections can address.  There has evolved in this country a perspective of prisoners by correctional workers that is very destructive.  It is important to remember that prisoners are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment.  When these two ideas become indistinct, correctional workers inflict punishment on prisoners.  They are encouraged in unconscious ways to make existence in prison unbearable.  There are an infinite number of ways that this is done, but its application is always subtle.  When an individual is treated with disdain and disrespect there is a cost.  The cost is both to the prisoner and the prison worker.  When a prison worker treats someone inhumanely they are actually sacrificing their own humanity.  The prisoner in turn becomes numb to his environment and the people in it.  This is bad because what society needs is for prisoners to learn to identify with others, especially their victims.  Over time the prison staff can become subconsciously sadistic and prisoners become sociopathic.  No one benefits in this scenario.  Prisoners are not the enemy of guards or other correctional workers.  When the us -vs- them mentality is promoted, everyone loses.  This does not mean prison workers should hug-a-thug each day.  It means prison administrators should promote and enforce professional behavior standards.  When guards and administrators shrug off prison violence as just part of the price prisoners have to pay for their crimes, it sanctions such violence.  People who work in prisons must be positive role models because they are the only role models prisoners have.

The third and last aspect of the social purpose of prisons is rehabilitation.  Rehabilitation, for the most part, no longer exists in this country as a correctional or social motivation for change.  The ultra-conservatives have won the public debate.  To even talk about rehabilitation today is considered a political liability.  Politicians only talk about more prisons and more punishment.  But the ultra-conservative do have a valid point.  Rehabilitation, as practiced in the sixties and seventies, did not work.  Recidivism rates remained relatively the same.  Why spend money on programs that provide no real results?  Rehabilitation only makes sense if it works, and so far, the only things that do are politically disallowed.  For example, we know that college educations drastically reduce recidivism, but taxpayers will not support politicians that pass bills giving convicts educational funding.

I believe that rehabilitation can work, but not for everyone.  There is a small group of criminals who are going to be criminals no matter what we do.  There is a small percentage of the population that are always going to live beyond the fringes of society.  These criminals are grifters and conmen and addicts and social-vagabonds and a dozen other things.  They are primarily non-violent offenders who make a living in petty crime.  This segment of prison society is not rehabilitate-able.  They have made a conscious decision to live the way they do and neither you nor I are going to convince them otherwise.

There is also a newer breed of criminal that is not rehabilitate-able.  These are primarily men who have chosen the life-style of prison culture.  They are often violent drug addicts with gang connections and racial issues.  These men have chosen to live in the most destructive environments imaginable.  They have numerous social, psychological, and sexual dysfunctions.  These men are not going to be rehabilitated and require maximum levels of supervision.  These people are aggressive prison predators.

The predators and the professional petty criminals are different kinds of people and should not be treated the same, but for our discussion they do fall into a similar grouping.  The un-rehabilitate-able make up about fifteen to twenty percent of the overall prison population.  Statistics will prove this out by looking at the misconducts issued to the same people over and over in prison settings.  This twenty percent represents the problem-children of the system.  That is the bad news, but the good news is that eighty percent do not fall into this group.   The problem here lies in the modern correctional paradigm that treats all prisoners the same.

Do you know why almost all prison rehabilitation programs fail?  The answer is simple when you see it from a prisoner’s perspective.  The amount of time and energy expended in a rehabilitation program is miniscule compared to the negative influence of the prison environment.  Please let me explain that statement.  Let us say a prisoner, for whatever reason, signs up to take a prison program like Thinking For A Change.  The program is basically sound and provides good information and advice to prisoners.  The man who takes the course spends about two hours a week for six months in the classes.  That means he gets a positive influence from the program for a total of fifty-two hours.

Fifty-two hours of good influence looks nice in a vacuum, but prisoners don’t live in vacuums, they live in prisons.  In the same six month time period, the prisoner has to face the reality of the world he lives in.  The threat of being killed, or assaulted, or robbed, or raped, or abused by a guard.  He lives in a world of stress and drugs and gangs.  In the same six month time frame he receives 2,860 hours of negative influence.  In other words, for every hour of positive influence he gets from a program, he gets fifty-five hours of negative influence in the same time span.  The rehabilitation program simply can not compete with the environment.  If you want to change what comes out of prisons you have to change what goes on in them.

Another example of the caustic nature of prison life is the pecking order.  In prison, the man at the top of the hill is the person most capable of violence, aggression, and sadistic behavior.  He is rewarded via other prisoner’s fear, and gets what he wants when he wants it.  This man eats better food, gets the best drugs, sleeps on a better mattress, wears better clothes, and gets the atta-boy on the back from his peers.  If this individual actually kills the people he lives with he is venerated and spoken of in awe.  In a free society those persons who treat others the worst are shunned and ostracized.  In prison they are leaders and respected individuals.  Prison life, when it comes to ethics and morality, is upside-down and backwards.  Even prison staff reward the belligerents and treat them better so they don’t have to deal with their problems.  The social structure of prison is promoted at all levels and it teaches the worst possible lessons.

How do we do it?  How do we change the system so that it meets its social obligations to society?  We start by using what we have learned over the past two hundred and twenty years since the first prison was opened.  We take advantage of the revolutions in technology, statistical analysis, and behavioral psychology.  We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  We just need to go in a different direction.

Architecture & Classification________________

It might sound simple, but it’s true, the problems with prisons come down to architecture and classification issues.  We build prisons today the way we built them 220 years ago.  We build them the same way and we do it for the same reasons.  There is a common idea that we can’t have a prison without a cage.  Prisons in America are concrete and steel bunkers designed to keep madmen inside.  Who would argue with the basic premise that madmen need to be locked inside steel and concrete cages?  Nobody.  But what about the prisoners that aren’t madmen?  Why put prisoners who are not predators in cages?

The answer is that we have used a one size fits all approach for all of our nations correctional history.  We want to build cells that madmen can’t break out of and can’t destroy from the inside.  This means concrete walls and floors and ceilings.  This means steel doors and ballistic glass windows.  This means stainless steel toilets and iron hard bunks.  This means forty thousand dollars in construction costs per cell.  We think we are safer when we build these kinds of facilities, but we are not because of the way we use them.

We are not safer because we put people in these facilities that don’t need to be in them.  If you put a non-predatory prisoner in a cell with a predatory one, there are only two possible results.  One, the non-predator gets abused, which creates a whole slew of psychological consequences that later get played out on other  (often innocent) people.  Or the non-predator becomes predatory in order to protect himself.  This also has consequences for other people down the road.  Either way, other prisoners, prison staff, and society suffers.  I’m not saying we don’t need cages in our prisons.  I’m saying we have to make sure we put the right people in them.

Statistics is a beautiful thing.  We can use our modern understanding of number theory to glean all kinds of lessons from the data we have been accumulating for decades.  One of the interesting understandings is that only about fifteen percent of the prison population is predatory.  Predatory prisoners are men and women who prey on other prisoners, prison staff, or destroy the environments they live in.  What makes a person a predatory prisoner has absolutely nothing to do with the crime for which they were convicted and sent to prison.  Some predators are drug addicts, some are burglars, some are rapists, some are murderers.  Some predators are hot check writers, or car thieves, or shop-lifters.  There is no consistent pattern related to criminal history when it come to predatory behavior in prison.  If you want to know who the predators are you have to observe the prisoners in their own environment.  Any prison guard in any prison who has worked for even a small length of time can point out the bad apples.  It’s simple observation, not rocket science.

When it comes to prisons, one bad apple really does spoil the whole bunch.  In prison, because of the upside down and backwards moral/ethical system, it is the bad ones that set the mood.  It is the bad ones that make the rules.  It is the bad ones that control the environment.  This forces all the non-predatory prisoners to live in ways that are destructive to themselves and others.  If you want to change prisons you must separate the predators from the prey.

A modern prison that holds fifteen hundred men costs around sixty million dollars to build and has a tax burden of twenty-seven million a year.  These costs are huge because we build concrete and steel cages for everyone.  Once you separate the predators you can then create purpose-built facilities for the non-predators.  A purpose-built facility as I outline later costs around nine million dollars to build for fifteen hundred prisoners and about nine million a year to taxpayers.  Even if you don’t like my numbers and could easily cut costs by half in this state if we purpose-built prisons for non-predatory prisoners.

Management practices have a tendency to follow the architecture.  In Oklahoma we have a hole in our classification system at medium security.  We have two classification levels at maximum security; maximum and super-max.  We have two levels of classification at minimum security; minimum, and work release.  At medium security, where the majority of all prisoners are housed, we have only one classification level, just medium.  What we need is a low-medium classification for non-predatory prisoners, and high-medium for predatory prisoners.  At the moment, what facility a prisoner goes to has everything to do with their crime and almost nothing to do with their prison behavior.  It starts when a prisoner is first classified at the receiving facility after they have been convicted and sentenced.  Prisoners in A&R (Assessment and Reception, LARC) are locked in cells 23 hours a day and are not observed.  They might see a case manager for just a few minutes at some point in their stay, but not much more interaction with classification personnel than that.  Then they are sent to the facility where they will serve their time.  As I said earlier, where they end up is about their crime, not their behavior.  Behavior, at least for prisoners in medium security, must be a considered factor.  But in order to do this we would have to run our receiving facilities in a very different way.  If prisoners are locked in their cells all the time then there is no opportunity to observe their communal behavior and determine if they are predatory or not.

The other big hole in current prison management practices relates to responsibility.  There has been a move over the past two decades to decrease the amount of responsibility prisoners may have.  You can not teach irresponsible people how to be responsible without giving them responsibilities.  Prisoners do not need to live in worlds where everything is done for them.  Prisoners should wash their own clothes and cook their own food.  Prisoners should even grow as much of their own produce as possible.  Prisoners should live in a world that is a reflection of society in order to learn how to live as a productive member of a social group.  Scaling of free society would of course be small and limited, but even a reflection would be useful.  Prisoners should have jobs that pay token salaries.  Prisoners should use what they earn to pay rent on their cells, pay for the food they eat and the utilities they use.  Prisoners should run their own stores and banks and services.  Prisoners should elect their own yard leaders and enforce their own rules.  Prisoners must learn to participate in their community.  They must learn that they are a part of the community and play a role in it.

In a strange way this already happens in prisons everywhere, but it is the dark side that dominates.  There is the convict code and the black market in goods and services.  This under-culture is alive and well thanks to the domination of the predators.  The building of a healthy model of society inside a prison is not possible when the dominant personalities rule by force and fear.  There can be no democracy in the presence of tyrants.

At the present time, life in prison is divorced from the real world.  It’s like summer camp for wayward adults.  Don’t get the wrong idea, the camp is not a pleasant one, but humans are the adaptable species and can learn to live anywhere.  There are gangs and drugs and violence and abuse on the inside, but it is still a camp where almost nothing is expected of a prisoner.  In actuality, a prisoner is expected to be lazy, unproductive, and immoral.  If society wants a prisoner to learn how to live in the real world, then the real world’s obligations and rewards must be mimicked on the inside.  Without rewarding responsible behavior you can not teach it.  The carrot and the stick work together.  Today’s prison system is all stick, sometimes held by the guards, and sometimes held by the prisoners.

To change the system we must build differently and manage differently.  Architecture and classification are the keys.

The Solution______________________________

Once we understand why prisons don’t work, we can begin to make the necessary changes to ensure they will.  As shown earlier, there are really only two big changes and numerous small ones.  The two big changes are architecture and classification.  The small ones have to do with the kind of society we allow prisoners to create inside the fence line.

First, we have to build purpose-built facilities.  If you don’t have to build a concrete and steel cage, what are your options?  Realistically, you need a modular design that can be built inexpensively and preferably by prisoners.  Modular construction using contemporary materials is probably the cheapest.  But, before we can break ground we must decide what the basics concepts are.

When I use the word basics, I’m talking about the fundamental approach to housing prisoners.  There are only a few possibilities and they should be examined carefully.  There are single occupancy quarters and multiple occupancy quarters.

Dorms and multiple occupancy housing all share a common weakness.  By not allowing prisoners a place of their own, they (prisoners) become subject to the herd mentality we are trying to avoid.  A prisoner must have a place where they can ‘escape’ the social environment that is prison.  A place that is quiet, a place where they can read or study, and a place they can feel ownership in.  A place where they feel safe.  Lifers like myself call it investing.  I have an investment in my cell and in my job and in the way I live my life in prison.  I take care of my cell because it is my home.  I take care of it because I identify it as mine and not the states.  This doesn’t happen in dorms.

Although it is initially cheaper to build a large dorm with a hundred beds, in the long run that dorm will cost more than small individual quarters.  Dorms reinforce the herd mentality of group-think in prisons.  Group-think is inherently negative and generates behavior problems.  No matter how well behaved, there will be conflicts among people who are forced to live together in close confines.  If you can not walk away from conflict and go ‘home’ (to your own quarters) the conflict has a tendency to escalate.  In a free society, people can leave a bad situation.  In prison, there must also be a place to go.  The simplest way to avoid social problems is single occupancy housing.

Another cost to multiple occupancy housing are the medical costs.  When one person in a dorm gets sick, everyone gets sick.  I have seen entire housing units quarantined because of the rapid spread of illness like whooping cough and H1N1.  When medical costs are only rising, anything that helps to prevent the spread of illness and disease is a plus.

Lastly, the cost of single occupancy housing is far cheaper than one might think.  This is especially true if we build small and modular.  Single cubicles need only be six foot wide and seven feet deep.  The space should be big enough for a bunk and desk and to store the prisoners limited personal property.  Individual bathroom and shower facilities are not necessary and communal designs work well as long as there are stalls and privacy curtains.  A block of single occupancy cubicles, twenty cubicles back to back with bathroom facilities attached, costs about seventy-five thousand dollars to build (see attached designs).  Compare that to the concrete and steel model that houses the same number of prisoners (20) for four hundred thousand dollars.  Considering the benefits, there is no reasonable argument against single occupancy housing for non-predatory prisoners.

Prisons are not constructed just of cells.  Traditional architecture requires the construction of dining halls, kitchens, libraries, gymnasiums, canteens, laundries, offices, etc.  Much of this construction can be reduced or eliminated completely.  For example, there is no need to build a kitchen and a dining hall.  Prisoners are more than capable of cooking their own food.  They should learn to be responsible for their own meals just as everyone in society is.  Instead of building kitchens and dining halls we should build a small warehouse where weekly food packages are distributed to prisoners.  Each prisoner would access to hotplates and microwaves in each row-house, and outdoor grills for summer cooking.  The prisoners are grown men and women and should be treated as such.

The same is true for a laundry.  Adult men and women are capable of washing their own clothes.  We should build people-powered washing machines for each housing block and clothes lines for drying.  No electricity is required.  People have been washing clothes for thousands of years without Maytags.  There is no reason why prisoners can’t do this for themselves.  This kind of activity has also been shown to promote introspection and self-awareness.

Recreation facilities, such as libraries and gyms, are also unnecessary.  Prisoners would be allowed a limited number of books in their cubicles.  This is also true of newspapers and magazines.  Furthermore, since the advent of electronic books, the amount of space necessary for a library is now the size of a computer hard drive.  This premise also holds true for access to legal research.  No special facilities are necessary anymore.

A gym is a luxury that is not a necessity.  While it is good to have an indoor basketball court available, the cost is not justifiable.  Outdoor exercise equipment will be built by the prisoners along with a jogging track, a volleyball court, a baseball diamond, etc.  In a free society the average person does not have access to an indoor gymnasium and there is no reason why prisoners should.  Park-like facilities are more than adequate for exercise needs.

Education is a must.  GED, vocational, and college programs should be available.  However, this can be accomplished via correspondence and requires no special facilities.  It does however require the use of a PC (personal computer).  The property matrix at this facility would provide zer0-footprint personal computers.  A pc can replace televisions, radios, and clocks.  A pc can also be used for education courses, news, and even general reading and recreation.  Access to computers insures that prisoners have the basic technology skills necessary for life in the real world.  PCs will also greatly reduce the costs of electrical needs within the facility.  Prisoners will not have access to the internet or facility information networks.  Instead the prisoners will be connected to a local area network for education, news, reading materials, etc.

A prison industries complex will be included in the facility design.  Prison industries allow prisoners to work and train in fields that are useful in the worlds of both the confined and free.  Such jobs allow prisoners to earn money for their future release and pay off the debts their past behavior has accrued.  Training will include furniture production, pc refurbishing, electronics repair, building maintenance skills, etc.  Hobbies and activities that generate funds will also be promoted.

The last and biggest area of change will have to do with the staff requirements of this new kind of facility.  The single largest cost to operating correctional facilities are the salaries of the employees.  Only about fifteen percent of the states annual correctional budget actually goes to operational costs.  The rest is salaries.  The department of corrections has become a massive employment agency and this will need to change in the future regardless of this proposed paradigm shift.  In this proposed design, all the daily functions inside the facility except for counts and security related tasks will be managed by the prisoners themselves and overseen by a minimum number of staff.

In the mid eighties the state of Oklahoma was able to get permission from the federal courts to double-cell because of overcrowding issues.  At the time, the compliment of prison employees was roughly a thousand strong.  By the late eighties the state prison population had doubled, and the number of prison employees had also doubled.  Since that time the number of prisoners in state facilities has not increased in any significant way.  Yet the number of employees has grown from two thousand to six thousand.  This, more than any other cause, has dramatically increased the cost of corrections in Oklahoma.  The question we have to ask ourselves is, are all these employees a necessity?

At a maximum security facility it is important to have a lot of eyes on the prisoners.  At a minimum a far smaller number is needed.  For non-predatory low-medium prisoners the number of staff required to operate a facility is rather small.  There are significant changes in operations that can have a huge impact on costs and not sacrifice security.

At the new facility I am proposing there will be no unit management teams.  There will be five records managers that oversee the five hundred prisoners.  Classification is almost completely automated these days.  The bulk of the decisions regarding prisoner’s sentence administration are made either at receiving, or governed by law and department policy.  At a conventional facility the level of redundancy in case management is almost comical.  For example, a prisoner’s records are maintained by his case manager, the facility records office, and the main correctional office in Oklahoma City.  Three people do the same job.  I propose the removal of the case managers at the facility level but maintain the records offices at the facility and main offices.

There is also no need of a unit manager, nor a unit secretary.  At present, on a typical correctional unit of 160 men, there are ten employees assigned.  Six are correctional officers assigned two per shift.  Then there is one unit manager, two case managers, and one unit secretary.  I am proposing that these numbers be greatly reduced.  Prior to the advent of unit management in the mid 1980s, prisons operated with less funding and accomplished the same job.

There will be no “units” in the conventional sense.  A housing block would hold twenty prisoners and five blocks in a row would hold one hundred.  Every five housing blocks would have a “counselor” assigned for each shift.  Counselors would conduct the daily and nightly counts and deal with the prisoners day-to-day concerns.  There would be no case-managers on the yard, no unit managers, and no correctional officers unless needed.

Correctional officers would be responsible for the security of the institution.  A five hundred prisoner facility would require less than forty guards, around thirteen per shift.  The guards main activity is to ensure the fence-line is not breached.  The guards would have six gun-towers, three fences, perimeter rovers, and both weapons and technology to ensure security.  The triple fence line at this proposed facility would be the most secure in the state.

In a modern prison it is the fence line that should be the focus, not the cell.  In order to protect society in accordance with the first social priority, no prisoner can be allowed to escape.  Luckily, technology has grown by leaps and bounds since the 1790s.  We now have the advantage of surveillance systems, motion detectors, razor-wire, heat sensors, etc.  Technology is much cheaper than personnel.  Every inch of the fence-line can be monitored, and all activity within the facility can be recorded.

Inside the fence line it is the counselors job to oversee daily activities.  Remember that we are dealing with non-predatory prisoners.  Guards are watch-dogs and emergency responders.  They do not need to work inside the fence-line unless an emergency arises.  Since the prisoner population is non-predatory and self-governing, there will be few instances where uniformed security is required.  This model of incarceration is similar to the operational model of POW camps during WWII.  Inside the fences the prisoners are responsible for most daily operations.  But the fence-line is protected by security.  It is the fence-line that protects society, not the cell.  If this facility is built next to an existing conventional design the resources of both can be shared and reduced.

By building with conventional materials and with simple modular designs we can greatly reduce the cost of construction and maintenance.  By greatly reducing the staff requirements we can reduce costs even more.  By taking advantage of technology we can lower costs even further.  I estimate it will cost less than half as much to operate a facility of this design compared to a conventional cage-based prison.  It will cost about three million dollars to build a five hundred man facility, and a three million a year to operate it.  Compare that to twelve million to build conventionally for the same number and five million a year for operations.  Building smaller facilities allows for closer management and fewer problems.  The larger the facilities prisoner population the less control staff has and the more conflicts prisoners have.

Inside the fences the prisoners will create their own community reflective of a democratic society.  They will form their own representative government consisting of an elected council.  They will have a monetary system where they will earn a token wage.  The token wage will be used to pay rent, buy food, and purchase goods and services within the prison community.  In short, prisoners will be expected to live responsible lives just as they would in a free society.  If the inside world of prison does not mimic the outside world there is no way for irresponsible people to learn responsibility.

Program and job participation will be mandatory, but the prisoners will have the ability to choose which programs to participate in.  There will be peer counseling, education, and vocational training.  Everyone will be required to work at something that improves their life and their character.  Prisoners who choose not to participate, or prisoners who refuse to leave the conventional prison mentality behind will be transferred back to a high-medium security facility.

Summation_______________________________

If nothing but cost effectiveness is considered, the proposed low-medium non-predatory facility is beneficial.  If we are also concerned about the kind of people we are releasing from conventional prisons, this model provides an opportunity for change.  If humane treatment and rehabilitation are considered valuable, this model generates progress that we have not seen in much of our correctional history.  In short, this new model has the potential of resolving many of the dilemmas currently faced by correctional professionals and society alike.  Contrary to popular correctional myth, we can have effective security, social responsibility, and humane treatment in one package.  We simply have to take a new approach and change the way we do things.  The conventional prison paradigm that we have followed for two-hundred and twenty years is not successful.  As a society it is time we moved on to something new that can be.

The three social purposes of prisons can potentially be realized with this new model.  The fence line will be the most secure in the state.  It is the fence line which ultimately protects society from escapes.  The fence line guarantees the segregation of criminals from society.

The second social purpose is punishment.  This facility is a no-frills environment.  Prisoners will cook their own food, wash their own clothes, and grow a portion of their own produce.  Everyone will work, and no one will have a free ride.  Rehabilitation will become the purview of the prisoner, with no excuses available.

The third social purpose is rehabilitation.  By creating an environment where predators do not rule we have the potential of reaching men and women who want and need to make positive changes in their lives.  As time passes, segregating prisoners by prison behavior is going to become the standard.  The question will be, once we have separated them, what do we do and what can we gain.  This model will explore that potential.

In Oklahoma, the majority of the prisoners under the supervision of the Department of Corrections are housed at medium security.  Eighty percent of these prisoners do not require high levels of supervision or concrete and steel cages for housing.  The potential savings of this new approach is literally in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  The social effects of the new model could save thousands of future victims from crime.  Considering the low construction and operational costs, even one facility for testing the theories would make a difference.

Finally, the system has an obligation to the taxpayer to accomplish its social purposes and expend the least amount of resources doing it.  The taxpayer burden for 500 medium security prisoners is nine million dollars a year.  The estimates for the yearly cost of the same number of prisoners in this model is only three million dollars a year.  Maybe at this point we should ask ourselves what we have to lose by trying something different.

Diagram Explanations______________________

Diagram –A

This simple schematic shows the general floor plan of a row-house.  Each row house will cost around $75,000.00 to build.  A row house holds twenty single occupancy cubicles, six toilets, six sinks, and two showers.  The general dimensions of a row-house are twenty-five (25) feet wide and seventy-five (75) feet long.  Each cubicle is six feet wide, seven feet deep, and has divider walls that rise seven feet up from the floor.  There are no doors to the cubicles, only curtains.  The shell of the row house is prefabricated metal construction.  Heating and air will be electrical and ducted above the cubicles.

Diagram –B

This simple diagram represents the layout of a standard cubicle.  Each cubicle will contain a standard sized bunk, a desk with a shelf above, and a clothes rack at the foot of the bed.  Each cubicle will also be provided with a lockable footlocker that can be slid under the bunk when not in use.  A curtain will provide privacy at the entry.

Site Outline

The general site footprint is three acres wide and four acres deep for a total of twelve acres.  There are four separate sections to the facility.  The primary section contains the row housing structures, visiting facilities, distribution building, and recreation area.  The row houses are set up in columns, five wide and five deep.  At the end of each row is a small utility building which handles the utility requirements of each section.  The visiting facilities serve multiple purposes since they will only be used as a visiting area on the weekends.  The rest of time the space will be utilized for medical and medication distribution, parole hearings, classification hearings, and any other necessary purpose.  The distribution center will be used as a warehouse for handing out weekly food allotments and as a canteen.  The recreation area will contain a jogging track, exercise equipment, and group activities.  The housing and recreation sections of the facility cover six acres.

The second section of the facility is the Industries area.  The industries area is two acres in size and contained five large metal buildings.  Each building will provide a different industry and training facilities.

The third section of the facility is the garden area.  The garden area is four acres in size and will contain sections for growing fruits and vegetables, and a small chicken form for the production of eggs and poultry.

The fourth section of the facility is the outside administration area.  This section of the facility contains the main offices for all the administrative functions.  This area will also contain the main warehouse, the maintenance building, and employee parking.

Facility security is via a triple fence line with six operational gun towers at all times.  Multiple coils of razor-wire will decorate the fences both on top and between.  The fence line is supported by digital video monitoring, motion detectors, and infra-red night-vision.

The construction cost of the facility is $2.7 to 3 million dollars.  The annual budget, including salaries, is $3 to 3.5 million dollars.  The annual taxpayer burden for 500 medium security prisoners is roughly $9 million dollars.  The potential savings in yearly operations tot he taxpayer is 5.5 million dollars.

Cost Estimates____________________________

Construction Costs

Land Requirements 12 Acres

Row-Housing Costs

Individual Row $75,000.00

25 Row Houses (500 Capacity) $1,875,000.00

Administration Building $50,000.00

Outside Warehouse $50,000.00

Recreation Building $10,000.00

Distribution/Canteen $25,000.00

Visiting Center/Programs $30,000.00

Maintenance $10,000.00

Gatehouses (1) $10,000.00

Guntowers (7) $40,000.00

Fences $40,000.00

Surveillance $100,000.00

Computers (550) $140,000.00

Lights $10,000.00

Industry Buildings (5) $100,000.00

Electronic Library $15,000.00

Transport Vehicles $100,000.00

Utility Buildings (5) $50,000.00

Total $2,655,000.00

Yearly Costs (Facility Personnel)

Warden 1 $60,000.00

Deputy 1 $40,000.00

Secretaries 10 $300,000.00

IT 2 $80,000.00

Mail/Property 1 $30,000.00

Education/Programs 1 $30,000.00

Canteen supervisor 1 $30,000.00

Records Management 5 $150,000.00

Counseling 15 $450,000.00

Security 30 $900,000.00

Medical Services 1 doctor, three nurses $350,000.00

Maintenance 2 $60,000.00

70 Employees $2,480,000.00

Yearly Cost (Services)

Food (2.00 per prisoner per day.)  $365,000.00

Water  (3 million gallons yearly x. 016) $48,000.00

Electricity $60,000.00

Sanitation $30,000.00

Maintenance $50,000.00

$553,000.00

Yearly Operational Cost $3,033,000.00

Copyright 2010. Davin Douma