As I launched my new website last week, I wanted to write a new blog which is a bit controversial but fashionable none the less. This month marks nine years that I’ve been retired from the Federal Bureau of Prisons and thirty three years working with incarcerated people. Yes people! I’ve written about the topic of violence before this more nuanced perspective was inspired by a recent prison reform meeting within the swamp.
Most of my adult life I’ve been an advocate for the incarcerated but was prohibited from going too far while working within the prison system. I was able to help many people during my career, simply because it was my job. Helping people within ones capacity is almost non-existent within the system today due to the leadership void at the agency. People who work within the current dysfunctional culture are under subtle pressure to avoid being labeled “an inmate lover” but this blog is not about the many dysfunctions of the agency. This label issue is just to set the sub-context and remind us the nature and mission of our prison systems is deliberately focused on incapacitation rather than treatment. While there is a good argument to made to this end, my contention has always been the lack of resources allocated to treatment, education and training make our society less safe and perpetuate the viscous cycle of incarceration and it’s bi-products.
In July of 2011, I retired and joined FedCURE. I was excited to bring insights into the reform world from a practical, working prison perspective. I joined one of the DC workgroups and participated in my first teleconference. Without getting into too much of the upsetting details; when prison issues came up I was astounded how little these NGO academics and lawyers understood about prison policy and culture. (my humble opinion of course) It was an eye opener and I eventually removed myself from the process entirely as the same issues were discussed over and over. It was a Eureka moment for mas it became very clear the DC reform movement wasn’t much different than personal agendas of special interests, politicians or even the prison industrial complex. The reform movement in many regards is like big business which exploits philanthropists and strokes the egos of academics, blue ribbon commissions and think tanks which makes me also think of the term “grown little rich kids.org”.!
In late June, I was speaking to a senatorial staffer about new legislation and they invited me to a working group call. It had been a few years since I had participated in a DC reform meeting; but I had been keeping up with reform issues as I was still on several email chains. I decided to zoom in and it was a Ground Hogs Day event for sure. But it did inspire me to write about violence so here it goes:
Most incarcerated people are NOT Violent! I’m not going to get into the labeling issue aside from the fact that both the NGO world and politicians are equally culpable of creating “boogie men”. One of the very first things pointed out about the new legislation was how the benefits were directed at “non-violent” people. Yes, people! The ground hog day analogy I referenced earlier was that on my first call back in 2011, the issue of what do we call people, yes people, who are/were incarcerated! On this recent call, I was actually impressed when someone spoke up about the issue of “non-violent” but they were trounced by some of the movers and shakers of the “org’s”.; but also the white collar lobby people on the call who opined, “ If this legislation can impact only one person, it’s worth it”. This actually caused me to type a zoom comment to the group many agreed upon which was:
“The minimum security camper who is released early today and is going to steal the last penny of an elderly widow tomorrow is “non-violent”. The person of color who did a single act in the hood as young person but has been a model person for many years is “violent” due to that single act
While I would like to write more about this simple concept, let the aforementioned statement sink in. People violate laws for many criminogenic reasons I’m calling out the NGO Mafia and asking for some circumspection about spending many years debating about what we call “people” caught up in the system, while allowing politicians to create boogiemen by perpetuating this concept in general. Have we not learned anything about the failed war on drugs and politicians pandering to get votes for a “tough on crime” platform?
People, for the most part, are NOT violent. Specific acts should be viewed in context and no less harm is done to society by the white collar lobby controlling our politicians. People receive sentences commensurate with their crimes and should be treated equally once incarcerated in every aspect of incarceration regarding good time, program benefits, training and treatment. For our society to be safer and break the cycle and metastases of the prison industrial complex; correctional treatment needs to have the allocation of resources equal to incapacitation.