According to the International Centre for Prison Studies which is located in London in the United Kingdom, at least 10.1 million people throughout our global village are incarcerated. Many of the incarcerated individuals are parents – parents who are disconnected physically and emotionally from their families and communities. In the United States, approximately 2,239,751 individuals are incarcerated and approximately 1.7 million children in the United State have a parent who is incarcerated. It is estimated that on an annual basis, nearly 700,000 individuals are released annually. We are talking about 700,000 souls every year returning to our communities who need healing and humanization.
In the Spring of 2012, I had an opportunity to discuss with Douglass Capogrossi, Ph.D., the President of Akamai University (www.akamaiuniversity.us), who has designed and facilitates parenting programs for Incarcerated Fathers in correctional facilities in Hawaii, the need for the design and implementation of an intensive and mandatory psychological debriefing for individuals who are being released or have been released from correctional facilities throughout our nation. After some thought, I concluded that a need existed for a two-tiered “healing” and “humanization” mandatory program. The first tier of the program will provide mandatory and intensive psychological debriefing for a minimum of six (6) months to one (1) year for all individuals who have been incarcerated — particularly Men. At the same time, the second tier of the program will provide for mandatory and intensive sessions with loved ones and family members of individuals who have been incarcerated. This second tier will provide the loved ones and family members with the necessary psychological and emotional tools they will need to help those they love who have been incarcerated heal spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally; trust again; love again; create a future for themselves; and empower and strengthen the communities that they have returned to. The second tier is necessary to create positive reinforcement and transform the environment to which the formerly incarcerated have returned.
By Nick Sizemore
Have you ever sat and marveled at the technological advancements in written communication? Never mind what’s been done since the beginning of time, having gone from cave paintings and tomb inscriptions to the invention of papyrus to Gutenberg’s printing press. Just look at how far we’ve come in the past two decades.
In the past 20 years everything has become electronic or digital, sent instantly with the click of a button or mouse. In fact, a recent study by the post office found that the average American household receives only one personal letter every seven weeks. It’s amazing to think that merely twenty years ago if someone wanted to correspond with another they actually had to pick up a pen.
Now, I’m not the type of person who believes such advancements are ushering in society’s doom, however, I do see one serious side effect: without computers or computer education behind bars, over two million people across the nation remain stuck in a technologically ‘medieval’ society.
Out of that population of over two million, most have had some type of computer experience before incarceration. Though there is a large percent that have never seen a computer in their lifetime due to fifteen or twenty years of straight incarceration. Many of these inmates will soon be released into a world where life literally revolves around the computer. A lack of computer knowledge renders them socially and economically inept. Essentially, a generation of computer illiterates has been created that will be forced to ‘catch up’ with society while maintaining a minimum wage job at best. This is a daunting task to say the least.
At Wakulla Correctional Institute in Crawfordville, North Florida, inmates and man’s best friend both get a second chance. Inmates locked up for various serious offenses are transformed by training canines that they have something in common with. Both inmates and dogs had behavior problems that removed them from society. The dogs were facing euthanization for not conforming to the rules. The inmates were facing time behind bars for breaking the law. Both inmates and dogs had a future that looked bleak.
Susan Yelton and Cathy Sherman, members of Citizens for Humane Animal Treatment, Crawfordville, NF, are responsible for initiating an innovative dog training program at Wakulla Correctional Institute in Crawfordville, Florida. Their idea originated from a program in Texas, Paws for Prison.
When Yelton and Sherman decided to ascertain whether a dog training program would work in North Florida, their first challenge was convincing Russell Hosford, warden for Wakulla Correctional Institution that it was a good idea to bring misbehaved mutts from the humane society to live with inmates for two months. Hosford’s initial reaction was, “You have to be kidding me; do you mean dogs will be living in the prison barracks with the inmates?”
The sound of violins and cellos fills the room with beautiful string music and this coming from a women’s orchestra where many of the players had no previous musical training, and who also happen to be prisoners incarcerated at Hiland Mountain Women’s Correctional Center outside of Anchorage, Alaska.
Founded in 2004 by the nonprofit organization, Arts on the Edge, the Hiland Mountain Women’s Correctional Center Orchestra began as a unique opportunity to see if women inmates would grow as human beings being able to play music as part of a team in an orchestra.
Puppies Behind Bars is a wonderful organization that trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and explosive detection canines for law enforcement.
In July of 1997 Puppies Behind Bars came into existence as a way for puppies to be raised for service dogs for returning war veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and to train dogs in the specialty field of explosive detection for law enforcement personnel.
Prison inmates are perfect choice for raising and training these puppies – they have unlimited time to spend with the puppies, and in addition, inmates learn responsibility, patience, how to give and receive unconditional love and how to work as a team.
Prevention, education and intervention are key components of helping at-risk people stay out of prison. People who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse often end up in prison and if their illness is not addressed, when released, many of these people will return to prison costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.
Agape Family Network is a health care system based in South Florida that helps in the rehabilitation of people who have either mental illness or substance abuse as well as for people who have lost hope, and faith in life.
Offenders who are in prison often have limited vocational skills that can help them find employment when they leave prison, which can mean that a crime can be committed that will land them back in prison. Many correctional institutions goals are to see that eligible prisoners are given the chance to find gainful employment and to ultimately reduce the rates of recidivism.
In collaboration with the Robert Janass School and the Idaho Department of Corrections, prisoners can learn vocational professional and technical education that can help them find good employment upon release. All of the courses are offered throughout Idaho and their correctional facilities, except for Idaho Maximum Security Institution.
With prison populations soaring, the Prison Reform Trust is working diligently within the UK penal system to help humanize prison conditions and to help reduce unnecessary imprisonment for non-violent offenders.
The Prison Reform Trust was founded in 1981 by a group of distinguished UK citizens that included a retired High Court judge whose main objectives were to help improve living conditions within the prisons, help prisoners stay connected with family and community, to help educate the public about the penal system and to create alternatives to sentencing offenders to prison.
The mission of Free Minds – Book Club & Writing Workshop is to introduce young inmates to how powerful books and creative writing can be, how writing can express emotions and put into words the challenges they are going through. In addition, youth can often relate to characters and story situations that they read about. Reading and writing can help them see their is potential for educational and career goals.
Think about a new way of looking at prison rehabilitation – one that focuses on healing. This is called Restorative Justice. Current prison rehabilitation focuses on punishment, race class discrimination, and creating a non-healing environment. Restorative Justice works and focuses on healing the inmates and working on restoring losses by allowing prisoners to take responsibility for their actions and by helping victims move forward in their healing as well.
Restorative Justice uses a different approach in trying to mend relationships through open communication with prisoners, creating dialogue between prisoners and community and helping inmates learn to become involved with community.