Beyond reform

Bogen, Rik



Rik Bogen BEYOND REFORM After the tsunami of arrest, jail, conviction and sentencing receded leaving behind the tangled sea-weed of my life I began to imagine that prison might be a new beginning, an opportunity to radically change, an educational experience. It most certainly is nut not in anyway that which I expected. The first discovery was the magnitude of the resistance to change inherent to the system. Example: The property rule said "one guitar-one harmonica..." so not being a picker I began to collect harmonicas, in different keys, and to [kyte?] the rule makers. The rule was not open to discussion nor was it uniformly enforced. This is the way it has always been and will always be, the mantra is chanted. A small thing perhaps, harmonicas and no threat to the institution but did reveal this resistance. The word no was never used as that would involve making a decision, however a thousand illogical dismissives were offered. A basic theme being: If this were allowed something bad might happen". The true situation is that a few inmates are up to something anyway while the majority is denied an opportunity for change. Another: "If this is done for you then it would have to be done for all." Why is that a no? I pushed this issue for 3 1/2 years utilizing every line of thought and rationale possible all to no avail. Progress can be made over time with constant effort in some circumstances. A music department for bands and music lessons was allowed after 12 years. The [NA?] group got a newsletter after 8 years, I was fortunate to be the editor which allowed computer access but such access for general use, not connected to anything was forbidden. With my projects and group involvements I have opportunity for radical change. Any one can do this given sufficient desire to overcome the deficiency of programs offered. The second discovery was the numbing boredom that permeates the institutional setting. I suspect that a certain amount of the bad behavior is a reaction, an attempt to make something happen. Drama as entertainment, and yes there are gangs, extortion, fights, all those things of filmland. One truly knows the meaning of doing time. By most inmates the passing of time is dealt with by watching T.V., a drug, sleeping, going to med line for overly prescribed psych meds. The institution psychiatrist admits "the system is broken..." The status quo is revered by nearly all of the denizens of the concrete deep, inmates and guards. These two qualities define current penology. 1) No change is allowed 2) No change is wanted To develop a larger picture use will be made of 2007-8 demographics from the Oregon department of corrections. The numbers are rounded up to approximate the current situation and to simplify the presentation. The prison population is 15,000 total with 20,000 on probation and 15,000 on post prison supervision, 50,000 in the system from a state of 3.4 million. Breaking this down within the D.O.C. produces an interesting number; 10,000. The number of inmates regarded as not dangerous nor sex offenders. The number of inmates with drug and/or alcohol problems. The number of inmates with educational needs, without high school diploma or GED. The number of inmates without a solid work history or marketable job skills. All 10,000 or 67% Just 50% of the inmate population has some form of mental health issue. Perhaps a result of incarceration for some while a exacerbation for all. The D.O.C. also boasts a 31.3% recidivism rate. The cost per day per inmate is $77.78 and most inmates are not new to the justice system. So 67%, 10,000 inmates are potential recipients of social services, education, mental health, job skills, and the single most significant factor alcohol and/or drug treatment. The following statistics are from the state's Office of Budget Analysis. (2007-2009 [Biennium?]) 51% of the daily cost to the taxpayers, Oregon is not in the prison industry, is labeled security & housing, staffing not the buildings. And in decreasing order: 15% = 12% + 3% Health and Pharmacy 9% Physical plant, Water & Light bills 6% Food 5% Institution Management? And now the interesting part: 3% Social Services 3% Education 3% Mental Health 2% Inmate Work And 1% for Alcohol and Drug Programs The least amount for the greatest needs. The system is more than broken, it is beyond repair. Change is not coming from within. The punishment/deterrence paradigm is counter productive, merely self-perpetuating and vastly expensive. A total rethinking is required. What is the cause of the criminal problem? To go into the general malaise of societal/economic/environmental conditions in the world today is far beyond the scope of this paper but not beyond the need for investigative thought. To be specific and using the observations above clearly revealed is: That the alcohol and drugs are the major factor in the social justice system, And that education requirements must be met, And that realistic training in job skills must be provided. The proposal is this: Close and recycle at least 70% of the D.O.C. A job loss of 4,000 with a savings of $1 billion dollars. Retain the newest institution(s) for those persons that require, for their own good and that of others, incarceration for extended time frames and to improve in a humanitarian manner the conditions for residents and the staff. Abolish the death penalty for a start. In the local communities, where the offenses occur, greatly increase the alcohol and drug treatment options, provide long term residential sites with real outside work incentives. There are plenty of environment projects. Create job training work release centers, former tax liabilities now working and paying taxes, imagine that Within the community support exists in many forms, in prison virtually none. Family ties strengthened, not rent asunder. A cost/benefit analysis of this new mode of operation has already been done in other countries, Western Europe for example. Although this paper is from the perspective in this state I'm sure that the situation is very similar in other tax-payer supported D.O.C.s The prison industry states are another matter, the profiteering by state sponsored private parties is morally reprehensible. It is my concerted opinion from close observation that two thirds or more of those incarcerated would and could benefit from such an opportunity; a change for radical change real and lasting and growth oriented, supported by the community and not to remain in limbo suffering moral, spiritual, mental and physical degradation.

Author: Bogen, Rik

Author Location: Oregon

Date: February 22, 2010

Genre: Essay

Extent: 8 pages

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