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Posts Tagged ‘inmate’

Although I completely understand the indignation of civil libertarians about some Massachusetts prisoners being obliged to make business cards for state officials, I think prisoner job-training programs like Michigan’s show real promise.

Consider this Associated Press story by David Eggert about “a new program that removes soon-to-be-released inmates from the general population and assigns them to an exclusive ‘vocational village’ for job training. The idea is to send them out through the prison gates with marketable skills that lead to a stable job, the kind that will them out trouble long term. …

“Jesse Torrez, 41, is among the prisoners who were admitted to vocational housing at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, about 110 miles northwest of Detroit. There, the inmates receive full days of training in high-demand skills such as welding, machining and carpentry.

“Torrez, who is imprisoned for unarmed robbery, served two previous prison terms. Each time after release, he said, he reverted to ‘drinking and drugging’ when he could not find steady work. If he lied about his criminal record, the employer would inevitably find out and fire him.

” ‘It was just real tough, due to my past, which I created and am totally accountable for,’ said Torrez, a father of five who is hoping to be paroled in 2017 and is being trained in construction trades.

“He said he has a job waiting for him with a manufacturer. …

” ‘We see an untapped talent pool here,’ said Mark Miller, president and CEO of Cascade Engineering Inc. in Grand Rapids, which makes automotive parts, trash carts, storage containers and other goods.

“Cascade does not ask job applicants about their crimes until they have been extended an offer. Depending on the job, inmates can make between $11.60 to start and $15.15 an hour within a year.”

More.

Photo: AP
Inmate William Garrett works on a cabinet at the Habitat for Humanity Prison Build at the Ionia Correctional Facility in Ionia, Mich.

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Giving prisoners something constructive to do with their empty time has long been a goal of reform activists and prisoners themselves. The upstate New York prisoners mentioned in a recent Talking Points Memo article really got into formal debating — to the point that they beat a storied Harvard team.

Colin Binkley writes, “Months after winning a national title, Harvard’s debate team has fallen to a group of New York inmates.

“The showdown took place at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College, and where inmates have formed a popular debate club. Last month, they invited the Ivy League undergraduates and this year’s national debate champions over for a friendly competition. …

” ‘Students in the prison are held to the exact same standards, levels of rigor and expectation as students on Bard’s main campus,’ said Max Kenner, executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative.” …

” ‘There are few teams we are prouder of having lost a debate to than the phenomenally intelligent and articulate team we faced this weekend,’ [the Harvard team] wrote. ‘And we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event.’

“Against Harvard, the inmates were tasked with defending a position they opposed: They had to argue that public schools should be allowed to turn away students whose parents entered the U.S. illegally. The inmates brought up arguments that the Harvard team hadn’t considered.  …

“While in prison, they learn without the help of the Internet, relying instead on resources provided by the college.”

More here.

Photo: Acroterion
Eastern Correctional Facility

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Don’t you love that term? I needed to know more and found it at the Governing blog.

“Darwin’s theory of natural selection was simple but significant,” write Emily Malina and Kara Shuler at the blog. “Variation occurs naturally within any population, and nature will favor and spread characteristics that are advantageous for survival. Like a species, a workforce can go through a similar evolutionary process driven by individuals with unusual but favorable behaviors.

“These outliers, or ‘positive deviants,’ sometimes bend the rules, but their practices enable their success and survival in the workplace. …

“This positive deviance approach is grounded in a systematic process that includes identifying outliers and the specific behaviors that contribute to their success, and then scaling those behaviors across the workforce. It can be especially useful when other efforts have failed to bring about the desired results, and it is more effective when the issue requires behavioral change instead of technical solutions.”

Asakiyume, I think you will like the example the authors give. It’s about some outlier prison-guard behavior in Denmark.

“Burned-out prison guards: The prison environment, with its stressful conditions and psychological burdens, has historically resulted in high absenteeism and early retirement among guards.

“Danish prison-system officials looking to address this problem began by observing the behaviors of resilient guards, those with five or fewer days of missed work. They found that ambiguity in inmate-intake protocols allowed for positive deviants to emerge. The rule called for guards to gather background information from new inmates, and the common approach was an interrogation-style interview.

“Instead, the deviant guards offered inmates a tour of the prison facility and engaged them in a conversation. This small but powerful difference not only better equipped the guards to deal with the stresses and mental challenges of their jobs but also improved behavior of the inmates under their supervision, as evidenced by fewer violent threats and greater enrollment in treatment programs.” More.

Gate_sea_Aug08

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Kirk Johnson writes in today’s NY Times about efforts to make time in prison more constructive, both in terms of sustainable practices that control prison costs and in terms of inmate improvement.​ The endangered frog program in Oregon, which requires perfect behavior from participating prisoners, is especially intriguing.

Johnson writes, “Mat Henson, 25, serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence for robbery and assault, and his research partner, Taylor Davis, 29, who landed in the Cedar Creek Corrections Center here in central Washington for stealing cars, raised about 250 Oregon spotted frogs in the prison yard this summer.

“Working with biologists, Mr. Henson is now helping write a scientific curriculum for other frog-raisers, in prison or out. A previous inmate in the program, released some years ago, is finishing his Ph.D. in molecular biology. …

“The program’s broader goal of bringing nature and sustainable practices to prisons is echoed across the nation as states seek ways to run prisons more cost-effectively.

“Utilitarian practicality led Wisconsin in 2008 to begin having inmates grow much of their own food. And federal energy rules are pushing the goal of zero-net energy use in federal prisons by 2030.

“Indiana and Massachusetts have become aggressive in reducing energy and water consumption and waste in their prisons, and tough renewable energy mandates in California are pushing alternative generation and conservation at prisons there, said Paul Sheldon, a senior adviser at Natural Capitalism Solutions, a Colorado-based nonprofit that works with government agencies and companies on sustainability issues. …

“There may be some intangible benefits for inmates who are being exposed to the scientific process, many of them for the first time, said Carri LeRoy, a professor of ecology at Evergreen State College in Olympia, and co-director of the Sustainability in Prisons project.

“Science, she said, is about procedural order, point A to point B, with every step measured and marked for others to check and follow. And when the focus of that work is a creature that undergoes a profound metamorphosis from egg to tadpole to adult, the lesson is also one about the possibilities of change. In a prison, Professor LeRoy said, that is a big deal.

“ ‘This image of transformation, I think, allows them maybe to understand their own transformation,’ Professor LeRoy said.”

Read more.

Photograph: Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times

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