As long as prisons exist, I've generally been a fan of the idea behind work release programs like the one in the Maine State Prison system, where incarcerated people learn skills like woodworking that will help them get jobs upon release. Or at least, it's the least worst work-related prison program I've come across. Most people who spend time in prison are usually driven there through a series of events complicated by poverty, so it makes sense to provide them with rehabilitative opportunities that they can keep them from experiencing the same depths of desperation after they've served their sentences.
That being said, there is nothing practical about this:
Bill Humphrey is a city councillor in Newton, Massachusetts, and also hosts a podcast called Arsenal for Democracy. He came across this jarring tidbit while researching for a recent podcast episode on prison labor.
According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette:
More than 500 people participate in MassCor [the Massachusetts Department of Corrections production company], and compensation ranges between $.85 and 1.45 an hour. Around the country, in 2017, wages for inmates in state-owned businesses like MassCor averaged between $.33 and $1.41 per hour, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a research nonprofit based in Easthampton that focuses on mass incarceration and advocates for reform.
I received a cutting board from the Maine State Prison Showroom as a wedding gift. Read the rest
In 2018, I was commissioned by Civic Ensemble of Ithaca, New York to help devise and write a new play based on their ReEntry Theatre Program — a free arts initiative for people who've experienced incarceration and/or drug rehabilitation. The program participants developed the raw material through theatre games and writing exercises, which I then took and transformed into a full-length script.
Streets Like This originally ran for 3 sold out performances in May 2018, featuring a cast of program participants, whose personal stories of addiction and incarceration inspired the script. The people involved in this show from the start have gone on to make some tremendous policy changes for social services and criminal justice reform in Tompkins County, New York, and decided to remount the show again this spring.
Then the COVID-19 outbreak happened.
But the cast and company got together one last time and filmed their production without an audience. It's streaming now for free between April 30 and May 17, 2020; and since they can't raise any money through ticket sales, they're hoping the video will bring in some donations so they can keep this program going.
Working on this play and getting to know these actors was an eye-opening and inspiring experience for me, and I know it's had a positive impact on their lives, too. I hope you'll check it out, and if you're feeling generous, throw some money their way so they can keep doing good work in changing the ways our society deals with addiction and incarceration. Read the rest
Many states require criminals to make financial restitution to the victims of their crimes -- paying to replace the things the damaged or stole -- and this applies to juvenile offenders as well as adults.
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What to do with all that civil asset forfeiture? Why not erect a fake hotel sign outside the county jail and make a fake ad starring you? That's what Sherriff Rick Staly thought would be fun. Read the rest
The vast majority of prisoners like Kenneth Moore held in solitary confinement for extended periods get released with almost no rehabilitation or coping skills. Frontline spent three years inside and outside Maine State Prison documenting the effects on prisoners as they try to return to society after solitary. Be warned, it is as bloody and terrifying as any horror movie. Read the rest
Six weeks after Mother Jones published its explosive undercover expose on the abuses, shortcomings and waste in America's vast private prison system, the Department of Justice has issued a ban on renewal of federal private prison contracts (where they are not able to do this, officials are told to "substantially reduce" the scope of those contracts), with the goal of "reducing -- and ultimately ending -- our use of privately operated prisons." Read the rest