If something isn’t working then you either fix it or replace it. Our prison system is not working. We have tried numerous fixes but none of them have worked. We have had chain gangs, tent prisons in Arizona and federal maximum security lockdown facilities. The recidivism rate, especially among sexual predators, is astronomical. It seems that every day another child is snatched from his or her home, school, playground etc. only to be sexually assaulted and then murdered or buried alive by some fiend.
Just today I read an article stating that California police officers have been instructed not to chase after parole violators because the California prisons are full. They are bulging at the seams. How many times have we watched our local TV news to see the gates open and prisoners scurrying like rats into our streets and neighborhoods because there is not enough space or money to house them. I have listened to and watched frustrated police officers and sheriff’s deputies agonize over these prisoner releases. What can they do? The federal courts have put limits on the number of prisoners that can be placed in a cell or facility and there is no money to build more prisons.
My thesis here is that we should not be building more prisons but we should be looking for alternative places to house those that break the law and do not fit or belong in a structured law abiding society. It is time to put these misfits on an Island. No, I’m not talking about Devils Island which you probably are conjuring up in your mind from the fictional movie accounts. Read on.
MSNBC -TV has created a documentary about American prisons. It is called The Lockup Series. It is fascinating, comprehensive and long, very long – 10 hours long. It is divided into different parts and can be watched over various time periods.
This series can be found on the MSNBC – TV Web site . The following was copied word for word from their web site:
Our nation prides itself on its love of freedom, yet we have the highest percentage of citizens locked behind bars of any nation on earth – close to two million men and women. Each year, our society pours 24 billion dollars into this prison system. For the men and women in prison, the daily challenge is simply to survive. But today, society also faces a crucial challenge – with more resources than ever invested in Americas prisons, many experts believe the time has come to find out whether the system is really working.
To search for the answers, MSNBC examined the issue from the inside-out, gaining extraordinary access to many of the nations most notorious prisons. The stunning results are revealed in Lockup, its series of ten, one-hour documentaries, which premiered on June 11, 2000.
The programs detail a variety of disturbing conditions and problems behind bars-and the enormous difficulties faced by the prison officials who try to solve them.
One grim look at prison life, featured one of the most volatile prisons in America: Pelican Bay state prison in California. It was designed to be Californias new Alcatraz, a single facility that would successfully isolate and contain the states most dangerous inmates. Instead, it has achieved nationwide notoriety because of its reported inmate violence and officer brutality. Since opening in 1989, Pelican Bay has been beset with violence and mired in litigation.
Lockup also examined the new, controversial approach to dealing with the toughest inmates: the super-max prison. The Colorado State Penitentiary is one such facility, and is home to some of the countrys most dangerous and disruptive prisoners. Inmates are locked up for as many as 23 hours a day with limited opportunities for human or physical contact. Human rights activists label these types of prisons inhumane warehouses, where inmates are not rehabilitated. CSP officials opened their gates to MSNBC cameras, where we got a close-up look at the living and working conditions for prisoners and guards alike.
The series also visited New York Citys Rikers Island-Americas largest and most infamous jail system, to see how officials are working to fight crime and violence on the inside. Lockup reveals what life is like for the Rikers population of about 20-thousand… from the feared gang members to the troubled mothers with babies, to those working in the busy bakery.
Anchor Forrest Sawyer takes viewers behind the walls of the Joliet Correctional Center, built from sandstone by inmates in 1857, its one of the oldest prisons in the United States. In January of 1999, a new prison administration came into office with the expressed goal of taking back the Illinois prisons and making sure that doing hard time meant just that.
MSNBC cameras were allowed to capture, first-hand, what lifes like inside Joliet and to see how these new initiatives work inside this legendary institution.
Several of Lockups episodes examine the problems uncovered by our investigation, as leading experts debate the important issues raised by the series and propose solutions for improving Americas rapidly growing prison system.
And in 2003, Lockup premieres several new shows, including a first-ever look at the intimidating death row of San Quentin prison in California, the all-out effort to seize control from the gangs of Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois, and an expanded look at the massive L.A. County jail system.
I strongly recommend to you that you go to the MSNBC – TV Web site, read the notes on this documentary, check their schedule for replays and watch this show.
What particularly distubed me was the treatment of the guards by the prisoners. No, I did not make a mistake, I meant to say what I did. It seems that a vast number of current prisoners have mastered the art of creating weapons and using them to attempt to kill or maim the guards. Not only do they use physical weapons but they also use feces and urine bombs some of which contain AIDS or HIV. A guard can no longer bring a meal to a prisoner and push it through the slot. The guards must first put on protective clothing and goggles before they can deliver meals.
It takes a special squad of about five or six guards with protective clothing and helmets to move prisoners from their cells to the infirmary, the showers, the exercise yard etc. It is at these times the prisoners plot their evil deeds. It is at this time that they attempt to put out guards eyes with a pencil or slash their faces with hidden razors. In addition to using this special moving squad there is another guard who videotapes the whole procedure.
It seems that in today’s litiginous society the prisoners, who all have access to a free taxpayer funded law library and who all fancy themselves as jailhouse lawyers, file suit in federal court claiming they were abused by the guards during a move. Hence the prisons and guards have resorted to protecting themselves with the videotape.
They take us through four prisons including the Los Angeles County Jail. One of the most disturbing things I learned was in this segment. The sheriff’s deputies who graduate from the academy are assigned to this jail. This is their first assignment after spending six to 12 months in the academy. Well it turns out that many of them quit after their first day in the jail. They just can’t handle it! From watching the show, I don’t blame them.
All of this got me to thinking, there has to be a better way. We should not be placing innocent human beings – guards – into this type of environment where they never know if this will be their last day on earth. Oh yes, I know, they joined the sheriff’s department and they get a paycheck, so don’t complain. OK, I agree with you but make the pay commensurate with the risk. If you spend eight to 12 hours a day in a place where every person is trying to kill you every minute of every day then pay the guards accordingly! Now, back to my idea, island prisons.
Suppose you were convicted of a crime and at your sentencing, the judge said to you: “I am going to give you two choices. Choice number one: You can be locked up in a regular prison like San Quentin or Folsom where you will spend the next 20 years in a six by nine cell or you can go with choice number two. If you choose number two you will be sent to Paradise Island in the South Pacific where the temperature all year round is moderate and pleasant. Where you will be able to roam free over the entire island and you will have no guards to tell you what to do. You will not have to work. You will not have to wear handcuffs or leg irons. You can build your own house and you can grow your own food. You can eat when you want, go to sleep when you want and wake up when you want. You can swim in the ocean and go fishing whenever you like. When your time is served you can either remain on the Island or return to society. Now tell me, what is your choice?”
What do you, the reader, think the convicted man would choose? What would you choose? I believe that most if not all, would choose the tropical island. Anything is better than being locked in a cell 18 or more hours per day.
I don’t have all the kinks worked out but we could separate the prisoners by type. Murderers all on one island. Gang members on one island and rapists and child molesters on another. We could leave building materials on the islands and the Coast Guard could patrol around each island. Drug offenders and non violent prisoners could remain in our local state and federal prisons or they could elect to join their fellow criminals on Paradise Island.
It would take a commission to work out all the details and to find the islands. For all I know there are no suitable islands. But I do know that if something is not done to change the system we will just be building more prisons and spending more than the $24 billion we are currently spending annually on prisons and prisoners. In addition to this we are going to have to worry about the 600,000 prisoners that are being released every year back into society. I’m betting that a lot of these guys would be content to stay on their island after their sentence is completed. For a lot of them it is just a lazy life in the sun without having to work or commit crimes to survive! There has to be a better way. If you can think of one post it. These are my thoughts! If you just want to criticize me and call me crazy you can do that too. But just remember it is you the taxpayer who is paying the bill for these prisons and it is you and your children and family that is being put in jeopardy by every criminal who is walking the streets instead of being locked up because of lack of space and money!