Needless to say,the drector of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Harley Lappin, has growing concerns about the issues of safety and prison overcrowding. Recently there was a proposed budget increase to tackle the issues of prison overcrowding, safety, and the everyday operations of federal prisons.
Often times it takes a good number of staff to conduct a mass “shakedown” to prevent these situations within prison walls by having corrections officers search for weapons, drugs, or alcohol. But what about the shortage of staff and the no-end-in-sight bulging prison population? Should there be more programs within the prison system to promote a better morale — or a lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key approach?
Does warehousing offenders for long periods of time stunt intellectual and academic growth? Eventually these offenders will be released back into the communities. How safe will the communities be with ex-offenders not having what it takes to become a law-abiding citizen?
Inmate Jonathan Stuart, who is the NAACP branch president for the United States Penitentiary 1, said “A lot of their (criminal justice system) corrective measures to address the problem isn’t done to create a safe, secure and good order environment. Rather they use mass punishment over promoting better educational programs to create better morale and positive incentive for the inmate population.”
Stuart has been incarcerated for almost two decades, with years remaining before he gets released from the confines of federal prison. Though many years of his life have been within the federal prison system, he has a winning spirit and tries to assist in encouraging other inmates to look toward a positive future. Many inmates come to him for advice and guidance on different issues or concerning the institution at-large.
According to the Bureau of Prisons, “Many education opportunities are provided federal prisoners, including basic education, post-secondary education, a wide range of occupational training programs, and leisure time activities. By policy, with minor exceptions, all federal prisoners who test below the 8th grade level on the Adult Basic Level Examination must enroll for 120 days in the GED program. Inmates may ask to be released from these programs after 120 days. All promotions in Federal Prison Industries and institution assignments beyond the entry level grade are contingent on successful completion of the literacy program.”
Certainly if an offender enters the prison system with a high school diploma, they have already surpassed 85 percent of what the federal prison system has to offer in terms of education. In addition to academics, there’s an area that requires stronger and better programs amongst the prison population – drug addiction. As the former co-Chairman of the U.S. Senate Drug Caucus, former Delaware Senator and now Vice President Joe Biden has been a national voice for effective drug control policies. He created the nation’s Drug Czar Office and helped create “drug courts” that combine supervision and treatment for non-violent first offenders.
According to statistics, in 2005 there were nearly 15 million active drug users in the country that not only live in big cities but also live, work and go to schools in small towns across the country. The study Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population says, “Of the 2.3 million inmates crowding our nation’s prisons and jails, 1.5 million meet the DSM IV medical criteria for substance abuse or addiction, and another 458,000, while not meeting the strict DSM IV criteria, had histories of substance abuse; were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of their crime; committed their offense to get money to buy drugs; were incarcerated for an alcohol or drug law violation; or shared some combination of these characteristics.”
“Combined,” the study concluded, and “these two groups constitute 85 percent of the U.S. prison population.”
Many years have passed since the beginning of the War on Drugs, but Stuart is strong in his belief in change, improvement and better programming, and says he knows there are those that have a “moral obligation to use smart and effective ways to deal with crime, punishment and prisons in our county … not draconian laws!”
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