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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Handbook on strategies to reduce overcrowding in prisons

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Here in Toledo, Ohio my (Catholic) parish boundary includes a nearby state prison.
The bishop’s office redrew parish boundaries a few years back and decided our parish, three miles from the prison, includes the Catholics at Toledo Correctional Institution. Quite a challenge for us, we have about 100 “churchgoers” on the average Sunday, about 2/3 are over age 60. About 20 baptized Catholics (of an inmate population of 1,220)  are registered within our parish.

We were encouraged to write the inmates. So I did. After about 3 letter exchanges, one asked me to visit him. So, after 3 weeks of pondering, I did.  It really isn’t any big deal.  Robb is very articulate and we do have some lively discussions in areas of politics, Catholic Church “hot topics”, and philosophy.

In the past year, four inmates have been murdered. at Toledo Correctional.  Allegedly by other inmates.  In Michigan, only one inmate was murdered in the whole state in the last year.  The rise in violence is in tandem with increasing overcrowding, especially double bunking in cells designed for single occupancy.

I am including this item because overcrowding is a safety and (mental) health issue.  The murders here at Toledo Correctional were in the higher security levels, Robb is in the lowest security level. Still, I cannot imagine how this is impacting Robb’s mental health.

Excerpts from the handbook
(I realize American prisons are probably better than the worst of the worst internationally, still, there is room for improvement)

In very diverse environments and over many years, the ICRC has witnessed first- hand the consequences of overcrowding on detainees and on the authorities. Indeed, overcrowding is an increasingly widespread problem in a number of countries and places of detention. In itself, it is a very serious humanitarian concern, as it auto- matically generates substandard and often inhumane conditions of detention. Tens of thousands of people are forced to live for extended periods in congested accom- modation, with insufficient space to move, sit or sleep. This seriously compromises the ability of the administration to fulfil detainees’ basic needs in terms of living conditions, medical care, legal aid and family visits. Being squeezed into cramped living quarters, often in appalling hygiene conditions and with no privacy, makes the experience of being deprived of freedom—already stressful in normal circumstances— exponentially worse. It erodes human dignity and undermines detainees’ physical and mental health, as well as their reintegration prospects. In addition to putting excessive strain on infrastructures, it heightens the potential for tensions and conflicts among detainees and with staff. It quickly leads to difficulties in maintaining good order within the prison, resulting in potentially severe consequences in terms of safety for the detainees, as well as in terms of supervision and security.

While the consequences are particularly grave for the men, women and children deprived of their liberty, they also affect the frontline staff whose job it is to protect and meet the needs of the detainees. Overwhelmed by excessive numbers and directly exposed to the frustration of the detainees without the resources needed to guarantee security or access to the most basic services, detention staff work in difficult condi- tions and are exposed to constant pressure and risk.

ICRC knows from experience that situations of overcrowding, once established, trig- ger a downward spiral which has a negative impact on the entire criminal justice system as a result of increasing congestion, staff demotivation and the development of parallel coping mechanisms or corruption.

3. Broader consequences of excessive imprisonment

The impact of overcrowding does not remain within the prison walls. It can have a detrimental impact on public health. The cost of the excessive use of imprisonment, which is a fundamental reason for prison overcrowding in countries worldwide (see chapter B), can be significant, increasing the poverty levels and socio-economic mar- ginalization of certain groups of people and reducing funds available for other spheres of government expenditure.

….

3.1 The cost of imprisonment

Numerous studies have shown that imprisonment disproportionately affects people living in poverty. When an income generating member of the family is imprisoned, the sudden loss of income can have a severe impact on the economic status of the rest of the family—especially so in low resource countries where the state does not usually provide financial assistance to the poor and where it is not unusual for one person to financially support an extended family network. When released, often with no prospects for employment due to their criminal record, former prisoners are generally subjected to socio-economic exclusion and are vulnerable to an endless cycle of poverty, marginalization, criminality and imprisonment. Thus, imprisonment contributes directly to the impoverishment of the prisoner and his or her family. Studies have also shown that children of parents who have been imprisoned are more likely to come into conflict with the law and that once detained, they are likely to be further criminalized. Thus the cycle is expanded, creating future victims and reducing future potential economic performance

…….

  • State report rips Toledo prison (toledoblade.com, 09/13/2013)
    “A state committee on Thursday issued a harsh, lengthy inspection report of the Toledo Correctional Institution, citing significant increases in assaults, high employee-turnover rates, rampant drug trading, and three homicides reported there in the past year.The 164-page report from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee shows that inmate-on-inmate assaults increased by nearly 113 percent and inmate-on-staff assaults increased nearly 74 percent from 2010 to 2012. The legislatively established committee monitors prison facilities, conducts unannounced inspections of prisons, and writes reports of their activities.”
    “The prison has the highest staff turnover rate — 16.5 percent — of all prisons in the state, according to the report. Most staff resignations come while employees are being investigated, according to the report.

    Toledo Correctional “has historically had challenges recruiting quality staff, particularly in health care,” the report states.
    Read more at http://www.toledoblade.com/State/2013/09/13/State-report-rips-Toledo-prison.html#RzJGpLqojeJcCKFA.99

  • Prison’s acts failed to halt homicides (toledoblade.com)

November 6, 2013 - Posted by | Consumer Health, Consumer Safety, Workplace Health | , , , , ,

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