The Uphill Battle to Make Prison Safer for Trans Women

Christopher Zoukis is a huge supporter of the struggles of trans gender people in prison, especially after a recent incident with a prisoner in Virginia.  That’s why I was so happy to contribute this article in Vice:  http://www.vice.com/read/the-uphill-battle-to-make-prison-safer-for-trans-women If you

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Prisoners Fighting Fires

By Dianne Frazee-Walker  Image courtesy grist.org

The California prison system is stepping up to the plate by fighting fire with fire.  Yes, that’s right — they are saving tax-payer’s money and providing low level offenders with valuable skills and purpose by putting them to work fighting wildfires. Another side benefit of this ingenious project is California’s prisons are emptying out because these inmates are earning earlier release dates and are not reoffending.

Demetrius Barr is one of the first Los Angeles County inmates to be granted the opportunity to leave his confined jail cell and enter a natural atmosphere of breathtaking landscapes and spacious campsites. Not only can Barr help save this precious land from the destruction of fire, but his own life can be salvaged from the unforgiving world of crack dealing.

Image courtesy justicenotjails.org

Barr doesn’t get to enjoy this new type of freedom for nothing. He receives this privilege by maintaining his fitness and best behavior, and being willing to fight thousand-degree flames. The best reward for fulfilling his commitment to the Pitches Detention center where he was trained, is earning good-time credits that will permit him to decrease his seven-year sentence by 35%. This would also insure that Barr “has what it takes” when confronted with a challenge as significant as a raging forest fire. 

The general public would be surprised if they realized about 50% of California wildfire fighters are prisoners and a few of them are incarcerated women. Capt. Jorge Santana, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) liaison who supervises the camps, confirms these inmates are dedicated to changing their lives while serving the public and are saving the state over $1 billion a year. Inmate firefighters are contributing a major positive impact on California’s financial and environmental well-being.

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Graduation Day for Auburn Prison Inmates

By Keri Blakinger  Image courtesy ithaca.com / Photo by Dave Burbank On Wednesday, Dec. 10, a group of 13 students looking much like any other group of graduates walked across the stage to accept their diplomas as the Class of

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Cornell Prison Education Program Gives Auburn Inmates New Hope

By Lauren Mazzo and Emily Hull / Just Ithaca For many modern-day high school students, graduating with a college-level degree is simply the next logical step in life; but for the 15 students of Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP) who will

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Friends Outside

By Dianne Frazee-Walker  Image courtesy facebook.com

Friends Outside, located in Modesto California was created in 1955 to bridge the gap between prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. Friends Outside has been filling a critical need of the community by offering services and education to people affected by the devastation of incarceration.        

History of Friends Outside

Like many human service organizations the initiation of Friends Outside was the result of an individual reaching out because of a necessity, and compassionate people stepping into action.  

In 1955, Sheriff Mel Hawley had a conversation that marked the beginning of a 59 year expedition to improve the lives of prisoners, parolees, and their families.

An inmate of the Santa Clara County Jail voiced his distress to the Sheriff about not having contact with his family since his incarceration and wondered if his family even knew where he was.

Sheriff Hawley immediately responded to the distraught inmate by asking his sister if she knew anyone who would be willing to help the man. The friend who volunteered to attend to the inmate’s concerns was appropriately named Rosemary Goodenough. The sheriff’s sister and the good enough Quaker Samaritan, Ms. Goodenough had to visit the inmate’s family because they could not afford a telephone. When the charitable women arrived at the family’s residence they were dismayed by the poverty level of the inmate’s family. They quickly responded by gathering up emergency food and clothing from church sources and referred the family to public assistance.

Ms. Goodenough’s good deed did not end there.

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Global Tel Link: The Nation’s Leader in Exorbitant Prison Phone Rates

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy newblackman.blogspot.com

For many years prisoners and their families have bemoaned the exorbitant rates charged by companies that provide telephone services to the incarcerated.  Prisoners and their families, two groups chronically economically disadvantaged, have been abused and taken advantage of time and time again when merely trying to stay in contact.  This is plainly unacceptable from a prisoners’ rights standpoint and a social morality standpoint, too.  But it gets worse.  As we delve into the murky waters of prison phone contracts, those who do not yet understand how insidious and extortionate these contracts truly are, will come to demand for change, not for their own sakes or for society’s, but based upon a moral conviction and the desire to help keep families together, a term of incarceration notwithstanding.

The problem with prison phone contracts ironically enough doesn’t hinge on the various departments of corrections or the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  It isn’t even promulgated by prison phone providers either.  The issue, instead, has to do with the awarding of prison phone contracts.

Prison phone contracts are awarded based on a profit share model.  Companies such as Global Tel Link agree to charge prisoners and their families high phone rates and to share profits with either the local jail or prison, or the central administration of the prison system.  As such, the incentive to lower phone rates is actually reduced.  Instead, both corrections’ departments and prison phone providers strive to tack on as many fees and increased prison phone rates as much as possible to increase profits, as has been reported frequently in Prison Legal  News and at the Prison Law Blog.  Often, these contracts are awarded to the prison phone company which offers the largest kick-back rate.  In fact, prison phone companies are known to also give premiums away to encourage contracts.  Local jails have been known to receive free booking computer systems.  Sheriffs have been known to receive campaign donations.  And police departments have received free police cruisers.

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Federal Prisoners Build Homes for Needy Families

Image courtesy facebook.com By Christopher Zoukis  We here at Prison Education News don’t often have the opportunity to report good news concerning educational and vocational training programs in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, so today we’re pleased to be able

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Open Books’ Prison Book Project: Reforming Prisoners One Book at a Time

By Christopher Zoukis   Image courtesy www.nbbd.com

Even in the darkest of nights the moon gives off a faint glow.  The same is true of the world of American corrections, even in Florida’s private prison paradise.  This light — and the hope it brings — comes from an unlikely source with an unusual mission: Open Books’ Prison Book Project.

The Prison Book Project is a volunteer books-to-prisoners operation.  Founded in the year 2000, when it used to be based in the now closed Subterranean Books (Pensacola, Florida), it is presently hosted at Pensacola’s Open Books.

Open Books, a nonprofit bookstore located at 1040 N. Guillemard Street in Pensacola, Florida is open every day from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM.  Its volunteer operators can be found selling discounted books to the public.  But on Wednesdays, the real transformational magic is breathed into being.

Every Wednesday, the Prison Book Project volunteers take over and get to work.  They open stacks of mail from prisoners across the state of Florida.  While they can handle around 40 requests each week (due to mailing expenses), they receive around 70 requests a week from prisoners seeking books, an outlet to something greater than their prison cells.  The backlog of hundreds of requests shows the value, importance, and respect prisoners have for this project.

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3 Reasons to Reinstate Prisoner Eligibility for Pell Grants

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy prisoneducation.com

There are many “smart on crime” reasons to reinstate prisoners’ eligibility for Pell grants and other need-based financial aid.  When we look at the benefits of educating prisoners we see reductions in recidivism, increases in pro-social thinking, enhanced post-release employment prospects, and strengthened ties to children and communities.  The list goes on and on.  Today, I’d like to touch upon the ideas that funding prison education programs is not a reward for crime, improves the economy, and reduces the number of victims (more specifically, new victims of repeat offenders).

Not A Reward for Crime

Perhaps the most important reason to reinstate prisoner eligibility for Pell grants and other need-based financial assistance actually concerns the refutation of arguments to defund it.  The argument goes something like this: The prisoner broke the law, so they should not be rewarded with a college-level education while they serve their term of incarceration.  The problem here is that prisoners don’t see educational restrictions as a punishment, but life as usual.  Prisoners usually come from an educationally disadvantaged population.  They are poor, have very few employable skills, and often don’t even complete high school.  Telling a person like this that they cannot go to school isn’t a punishment to them, it is life.

The vast majority of those in American prisons feel as though they never had any meaningful access to education prior to their criminal lifestyle, even if the public school system was open to them.  Often they feel as though their only option was a life of crime.  This has a lot to do with the families and communities they grow up in.  Restricting an education from a person like this — a person who desperately needs the life-saving tool of education — is plainly cruel.  It’s setting the already disadvantaged prisoner up to fail.  If we do so, we shouldn’t be surprised when they do.

Preventing inmates from obtaining scholastic financial assistance clearly doesn’t punish prisoners, it punishes us, the American people.  Restricting funding for prison education programs merely prevents those who want a better life after their release from prison from obtaining one.  When these tools are restricted — either by means of banning prisoners from educational pursuits or by refusing to fund such programs — we are really hurting ourselves much more.

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