Categories
Correctional Insights

Is Prison Food Adequate?
What to Cook on the Inside

It goes without saying that prison food leaves a lot to be desired. A former inmate interviewed by the BBC discussed the notable difference in food quality between his two prison stints—one that took place in the 1990s and the other in the 2010s. Over time, “state budgets dropped, jail expenses increased, and more communities turned to privatized prisons. Food was one area where administrators looked to cut costs.”

Can you Cook in Prison?

Many prisoners turn to ramen-based dishes in order to make up for the lack in both quality and quantity of food in prison. Because prisoners often do not have access to a microwave, the process of cooking ramen is fairly complicated. Inmates typically cook the noodles in a bowl or garbage bag full of hot (or warm) water. Usually the bag or bowl has to be wrapped in bedding so as to retain as much heat as possible.

When making ramen in prison, many inmates add extra items to it, such as boiled eggs, mayonnaise, or pickles saved from a previous meal. Others add in items purchased from the canteen, such as chips, tuna, or rice. A Vice report into the culinary situation in prison says of the food, “For those who haven’t been inside, it may be hard to imagine how crunched-up Cheetos and hot water, moulded into something vaguely reminiscent of a tamale, could be worth the effort . But…[those] who’ve studied DIY prison recipes, say cooking meals in prison isn’t really about the taste—it’s a reminder of humanity, community, and the person you were on the outside.”

The Impact of Choice

We have previously covered the importance of choice within prison walls. Without choice, we are all likely to become prisoners to our own emotions. Unfortunately, prison takes away the element of choice for those who are incarcerated—from decisions about where to go or what to do, to basic choices about what to eat.

Instead, prisoners are forced into a highly unhealthy diet of inedible cafeteria food, ramen, and chips. Rather than let this problem continue to fester, the proactive thing to do would be to improve the food options available to inmates.

Budget cuts combined with increased costs have led prison administrators to seek economizing strategies for their facilities. This has led to a serious decrease in the quality of food served to inmates. Inmates should never be forced to seek out new ways of feeding themselves while incarcerated. This is both dehumanizing and socially immoral.

What You Can Do

Rather than ignore the current situation prisoners face when it comes to eating in prison, share this article to help raise awareness of the poor quality of prison food—such food is so bad that it can’t be ignored.

Categories
Correctional Insights

My Mother is in Jail –
What’s Next?

Having a parent go to jail can be an extremely traumatizing experience for a child. Whether it’s the mother or father, the negative effects of parental incarceration touch every area of a child’s life. Criminal justice expert Eric Martin states the following:

“Children of incarcerated parents face profound and complex threats to their emotional, physical, educational, and financial well-being.”

When a child’s parent is jailed, Martin states that the child is highly likely to become a “hidden victim” of the criminal justice system. Often these children do not have access to support or even acknowledgement.

Despite the fact that many children suffer from the same post-crime issues as direct victims do, they don’t have the same institutional support. Generally, these hidden victims do not benefit from the societal assistance systems typically available to direct crime victims.

Parent-Child Communication

In the past, we have discussed how important it is for jail administrators to encourage and facilitate visits between children and their mother or father who is in jail. Such visits can have a profound effect when it comes to mitigating the potential negative effects felt by children of incarcerated parents.

In fact, research by the Urban Institute shows that a child who visits his or her mother or father in jail is less likely to feel abandoned and anxious. Instead, visits in a child-friendly setting with appropriate emotional preparation can promote emotional security and have a positive effect on kids.

However, single one-off visits aren’t likely to modify behavior long-term. Consistent communication with parental figures is crucial for every child. It helps their brains develop, and their interpersonal skills grow. The more opportunities a child has to speak with their incarcerated parent, the better.

The Unseen Victim

As a society, we must also put in place a social safety net to help catch these children. Our country has to stop willfully ignoring these kids in the Criminal Justice reform conversation. In order for that to happen, we need to talk about the problems they face.

We can’t allow this victimization to continue. Our country must ensure that children of incarcerated parents have access to the resources they need. Both physical and emotional resources are vitally important. Access to the systems designed to protect direct victims of crime are also important. Now is the time to support the unseen victims of crime: children.

In order to combat the profoundly negative effects rooted in parental incarceration, we need to raise awareness of the problem. When a child’s mother or father is jailed, that child faces a range of problems that are not his or her fault. Far too few people understand this fact, especially in government.

How You Can Help

Society can do better for these children. Rather than continue to ignore the problem, share this article today to help raise awareness. Your voice matters, and change can only happen when society demands it.

Categories
Correctional Insights

Can Jail Cause PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder normally thought of as something that only affects soldiers and military members coming back from a stressful deployment. In fact, PTSD can affect anyone who has gone through some terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Because a stint in jail can include repeated traumatic events and habitual stress, inmates are at a greater risk of developing the disorder. 

Trauma from Jail Time

Research cited by promisesbehavioralhealth.com states that “African American men who had been incarcerated were two times as likely as those who had never been to prison to have PTSD. Thirteen percent of the men with PTSD had been in prison, while less than 8% who had never been incarcerated struggled with the disorder.”

Unfortunately, this higher rate of PTSD could explain why inmates experience so many problems adjusting to life outside of prison. Issues like unemployment, suicide, domestic violence, assaults, substance abuse often affect people with PTSD. As a result, PTSD and the problems that come along with it could be a key part of recidivism.

What Causes PTSD?

Crime isn’t always traceable back to a single choice. Similarly, most of the research about the link between prison and PTSD can’t pinpoint the exact causes of the disorder. Prison is full of variables. Plenty of inmates across the nation probably have short sentences and see very little of what causes PTSD. In addition, our brains adapt and function in a variety of ways, and we all respond differently to stress.

That being said, a number of stressful events can trigger the disorder. They are:

  • Physical Assault
  • Sexual Assault
  • Observing Murder
  • Observing a near-death experience

How to Help

According to newsmedical.net, in order for prisoners to deal with PTSD, they need “to understand the trauma in the right light.” Some inmates may be harboring background traumas, or events in the past that are shaping their present. Mental health experts need to resolve these past traumas as soon as possible.

“[A]voidance, stress levels, depression, self-blame and anger” all can affect inmates troubled by PTSD. As a result, inmates can benefit by learning controlled breathing techniques and by improving their coping habits.

Do Your Part

Share this post to help spread awareness about the challenges inmates face.

Categories
Correctional Insights

How did the Government
Shutdown Affect Inmates?

Regardless of your political view, the government shutdown had serious implications for federal workers around the country. However, it wasn’t only federal employees who felt the impact of the government shutdown, but inmates as well. So let’s discuss the effects:

Short-Staffed

The problems that inmates experience during a shutdown stem from short-staffed prisons. During a shutdown, the Bureau of Prisons only allows employees to continue working if their duties involve “the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

According to The Marshall Project, up to half of the Bureau of Prisons’ staff was furloughed during this past shutdown—the longest shutdown in U.S. history. The remaining employees were asked to keep working unpaid and focus on maintaining security.

Local jails also often receive funding from the government to house federal inmates, and they too felt the impact.

So how does this affect inmates?

Many social visits for inmates were cancelled because of a lack of staff. Being able to keep up with communication to friends and family members helps inmates build and maintain relationships and reduces recidivism. Its importance cannot be understated; check out this previous Encartele article on the subject.

Arguably, more important is an inmate’s ability to be able to meet with their legal aid. The Bureau of Prisons confirmed to the criminal justice journalism team, The Appeal, that this had happened in Brooklyn and Manhattan. When a lawyer isn’t allowed to meet with their client, it can delay court proceedings and sentencing, extending the amount of custody time.

Applications that inmates filed for “compassionate release,” often went unread during the shutdown. Compassionate release is a process that is eligible to inmates who have special humanitarian circumstances, like terminal illness. These people do not have time to wait around. They want to be able to get home as soon as possible and spend their remaining days with their loved ones.

Inmates in varying situations were deprived of educational classes, library access and programs, as well as transfers and visits with mental-health professionals.

Though it was denied by the Bureau of Prisons, The New York Times reported that some prisoners went on hunger strikes, protesting the cuts that their facilities faced.

The government shutdown directly affected inmates who were unable to do anything to change their circumstances.

If you found this informative, share this post on social media.

Categories
Recidivism

The Importance of
Consistent Communication

Anyone who has a family member or friend who is or has been incarcerated knows the struggle and the frustration associated with the behavior of the inmate.

Whether a short term stay or a lengthy sentence, those incarcerated are serving time for breaking the law. That behavior is a thorn in the side of every loved one—a thorn that can lead to a lack of empathy, a lack of patience and a lack of communication in their relationship with the inmate.

While those feelings aren’t uncommon and, in most cases, are justified, people who are incarcerated need consistent communication, empathy and patience, if their loved ones want to see them reenter society with lower recidivism rates than other inmates.

Communication Breakdown

In their research article on recidivism, Matthew A. Koschmann and Brittany L. Peterson argued that many reentry efforts focus primarily on traditional signs of reoffending, rather than on what is actually to blame for that recidivism. In other words, the focus is on continued criminal behavior, violations to parole and compliance with treatment requirements, but not on communication.

According to the pair, “the underlying cause is a communication breakdown of being cut off from networks and meaningful relationships that provide the necessary social capital needed for successful reintegration.”

A parent, spouse, sibling, other family member or good friend needs to continue offering consistent communication to the inmate throughout their sentence. Even better, a network of people who care for the incarcerated individual and want to see them succeed upon release need to work at consistent communication with the inmate to ensure their relationship with the individual stays strong. Deep ties to family and friends help an inmate to walk away from people and situations that don’t have their best interests in mind.

Prison staff should also strive for consistent communication with inmates. However, their style of communication must be different than the support offered by families. Staff have a responsibility to uphold an impartial, professional, and uncompromising relationship with the incarcerated population.

While staff want to see an inmate succeed in reentry and likely have some great advice to share with the inmate along the way, their relationship with any single inmate should be a sterile one.

This is important to remember, because, in some cases, staff relationships are all an inmate has for communication. Staff relationships do not offer the strong, deep ties to family and friends that will see them through difficult situations upon reentry.

Overall Importance of Relationships

According to an Evidence-Based Professionals Society article by Timothy Daty, “When examining recidivism, the study of family relationships is often a key component in predicting repeat criminal behavior among formerly incarcerated individuals. Research suggests that strong family ties produce lasting impacts among this population and often deter future incidents of crime (Bales and Mears, 2008).”

Consistent communication is an important factor in life, whether behind bars or not.

Kathy Miller, a caregiver coordinator who works with the elderly, wrote, “Our ability to communicate thoughts and feelings to those around us helps us to maintain our sense of identity, and is an integral part of maintaining our quality of life.”

She may have been referring to people suffering from Alzheimer’s, but the sentiment remains true to all facets of life. Communication is a key factor in our psychological well-being—something that can warp and disappear very quickly behind bars.

Keeping consistent communication with an incarcerated individual is easier said than done in many cases, as the pressures of prison can be extremely overwhelming, especially in the beginning.

The Roadblocks

There is pressure for inmates to find a group, to assert themselves or blend in, to maintain their independence or embrace the regulatory nature of prison. That pressure is a weight all inmates must carry, and it’s significant.

Inmates face strict regulations on items they can own, the amount of time spent out of their cell, and what they are allowed to eat, which can cause frustration. They also are surrounded by other inmates, some of whom have no desire to grow beyond their poor decisions and cultivate healthy relationships and success in life.

Break the rules, and the few privileges an inmate has will vanish. That includes phone time and in some cases receiving mail, depending on the severity of the infraction. Keeping those communication lines open is vital.

Being part of the support system for an inmate who regularly lands in trouble may put a damper on your relationship, but family members and friends should maintain consistent communication in spite of that, for the benefit of everyone.

According to a Prison Legal News article by Alex Friedmann, “studies have consistently found that prisoners who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates.”

While a family member or friend can’t be forced to have consistent communication with an inmate, the opportunity is always there. More and more jails today have various forms of telecommunication for inmates, whether it be video visitation, phones or secure email.

The fact is, making the choice to keep up with your incarcerated loved ones directly affects their likelihood of getting out of jail—and staying out.