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
Tips & Facts

Mental Health &
the American Jail

“You can’t do anything right. You don’t matter to anyone. You’re worthless.”

Mental illness can be its own prison. When it’s your own mind making you feel trapped and hopeless, the difference between reality and fiction can begin to blur.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Nearly 1 in 25 (10 million) adults in America live with a serious mental illness.”

It’s incredibly likely that someone you know or meet will have experienced a mental illness at one point in their life. While there are organizations and individuals helping to de-stigmatize mental illness and champion mental health awareness, it’s still taboo and tough to openly discuss.

Asking for help can feel like the hardest possible course of action, but even when people do ask, access to mental health services can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.

Now imagine trying to deal with these issues while being incarcerated.

Mental Health in American Jails

The Bureau of Justice Statistics published a report concerning mental health problems, finding that “…more than half of all prison and jail inmates had a mental health problem, including 705,600 inmates in State prisons, 78,800 in Federal prisons, and 479,900 in local jails.”

These staggering figures reveal a tremendous problem. More than one million Inmates across the country must adjust to incarceration while dealing with their inner turmoil.

Offering more education and counseling programs could help afflicted inmates. Having a GED program or small-group meetings (like the ones used in Alcoholics Anonymous) could curb symptoms of mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. Learning about other people who have experienced similar hardships is a great way to set a person’s mind at ease.

In addition, discussing personal experiences with a therapist could also make the adjustment less harsh. Therapy and counseling carry the stigma of only being for people who have a “real” problem, but why not make services available to all inmates? Having a mental illness does not make inmates more hostile or any less human.

It’s important to think about these possible treatment options because many people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their mental health problems.

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that people who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder consumed 69 percent of all the alcohol consumed nationwide, along with 84 percent of the consumed cocaine and 68 percent of the consumed cigarettes. This validates the theory that substance abuse and other addictions are used as a coping mechanism for dealing with mental illness.

In a Boston Globe article by members of the Spotlight team, “The Harvard-led Boston Reentry Study found in 2014 that inmates with a mix of mental illness and addiction are significantly less likely than others to find stable housing, work income, and family support in the critical initial period after leaving prison…” These risk factors directly affect an individual’s ability to resist criminal influences and escape the cycle of recidivism.

What can we do to help those with mental health disorders post-incarceration?

Outside Treatment Options

Currently, the criminal justice systems lack rehabilitation options for those on their way out of jails. Though there are transition programs in every state, funding and participation are huge factors in whether a program will endure.

Re-entry programs help to combat post-incarceration syndrome, but don’t necessarily assist in finding counseling options for ex-offenders. One reason that felons re-offend is because they fall into the same patterns and groups they were involved with pre-incarceration. But recidivism will decrease if inmates are prepared for the outside world.

Continuing therapy post-incarceration and offering community engagement opportunities could ease the isolation that comes with being released. Giving ex-offenders a purpose or place in society could make the difference as to whether or not they re-offend.

Using Technology for Mental Health in Prison

Video-chatting and live-streaming have become prevalent forms of inmate communication for many counties. Some correctional facilities now offer video visitation services and that can be used to help inmates dealing mental illness.

Offering a way to live chat with a therapist could be another incentive to acquiring such technologies. Inmates lose touch with the outside world during incarceration, and providing a way to stay connected could decrease their feelings of isolation. If the feeling of isolation increases anxiety and worsens depression in normal people, the effects must be exceptionally strong in a prison or jail.

Correctional facilities house many inmates who have mental illness and providing solutions like therapy and video visitation can help combat these emotions. Live video-chatting offers a way for inmates to connect with a therapist on the outside who could possibly help them post-incarceration.

Unfortunately, there is no “best” way to mitigate every mental illness, but providing options like therapy or video visitation in a correctional facility would be excellent first steps.

Categories
Smart Jail Technology

What is a Smart Jail?

Smart phones, smart watches, smart speakers, smart TVs, smart dish washers— It makes you wonder why we ever bothered making dumb products to begin with. Every year, more and more of these smart devices hit the market. But in the last decade since the phrase “Internet of Things” was termed, the concept never really made it to forefront of community-based law enforcement: The County Jail. Encartele aims to change that. By bringing the best features of smart devices to smaller correctional facilities, we mean to make the smart jail a nationwide reality.

But what makes a jail smart? Is it some combination of gadgets, WiFi hotspots, and robot vacuum cleaners? Not at all. In actuality, there are five key attributes that make up a smart jail: Autonomy, Interconnectivity, Passivity, Control, and Analytics. In the following paragraphs, we’ll break down how each of these concepts apply to county jails.

Autonomy

Earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, and social unrest can’t be allowed to influence the day-to-day operations of a jail, especially if those disasters are happening in far-off places. A smart jail needs to be semi-autonomous if it’s going to rely on technological solutions. This means that the software and hardware inside a jail shouldn’t be overly reliant on external vendors or licenses. When multiple third-parties are introduced into the jail technology mix, that means there will be more break-points for critical functions. Limiting break-points is a foundational pillar of the corrections field.

a smart jail floating up above a bunch of natural disasters.

Interconnectivity

Just because the critical functions of a smart jail are managed with an iron grip doesn’t mean other software and hardware implementations should be ignored. A smart jail should welcome integrations with numerous vendors to supply the best-possible services to inmates and their friends and families. But more than that, the technologies inside a smart jail should work in concert. The digital signage should change based on what inmates talk about over the phone; video visitation and video arraignment applications should track the same kinds of computer glitches; and jail-environment sensors should warn kiosk devices when temperature/humidity could affect hardware performance.

Passivity

Smart jails should have functions which are easy to operate, sure, but functions which operate on their own in the background are even more beneficial. It’s nice to be able to run a video visitation usage report whenever you want to, but it’s even better to receive a video visitation report every Monday without lifting a finger. “There’s a lot of automation that can happen that isn’t a replacement of humans but of mind-numbing behavior,” and that’s exactly what we’re aiming for. Automate what can be automated, and let the corrections professionals get back to work.

Control

C’mon, you had to know this would make the list. For an institutional system DEFINED by its ability to control the movements and habits of its inmates, control is paramount. The smart jail is no different. Absolute facility control goes hand-in-hand with absolute system control, and smart jail administrators must have the biggest ring of keys when it comes to their technology. In itself, this is a relatively simple goal to accomplish, until you consider the realities of organizational management. Should the jail administrator be the only person who can process and review inmate commissary requests? Hell no! That’s why the smart jail makes delegation a priority, while the administrators maintain total control.

Analytics

Some problems are too large to be solved with gut instinct alone. Worsening mental health, recidivism, and post-incarceration outcomes for inmates are enormous problems. Without the proper information, society doesn’t stand a chance at solving them. However, smart jails can provide the proper data, or at least part of it. Technological innovations allow us to generate metrics for anything we can dream of. Want to know how likely an inmate is to commit another crime upon release? Want to know which state facilities are the most at-risk for inciting a riot? A smart jail can provide that information. With the insights provided by accurate, predictive analytics, law enforcement and correctional officials will have the ability to enact criminal justice reform from the ground up.

Final Thoughts on the Smart Jail

Big or small, any jail can become a smart jail. These attributes don’t depend on bed size or the population of your county, they depend on a correctional official’s willingness to grow. Building a smart jail is not a risk-free, passive, sit-on-the-couch-and-make-tons-of-money venture. You’ve got to be committed to excellence (and no one better fits that description than jail administrators). Naysayers are going to say nay, but making the world a better place is not for the faint of heart. Nationwide criminal justice reform is possible, and smart jails will be driving that change.