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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.

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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.

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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
Correctional Insights

Journalists Facing
Hard-Time Abroad

“I was in a solitary cell for five days, only allowed one hour in the courtyard. You could go crazy after a while,” Asli Erdoğan wrote of her time in a Turkish jail. “I spent 48 hours without water when I first arrived. I was in shock, which worked a bit like an anesthetic.”

Erdoğan, a Turkish writer/journalist, was arrested for terrorist propaganda in 2016. Wordsmiths, like Erdoğan, have a hard time expressing opinions in their own country, let alone a foreign one.

Journalists can incur the wrath of the public by investigating events, writing less-than popular opinion pieces or by criticizing the wrong people. Reporters travel the world to cover events and interesting topics, like a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse or a civil war in Syria. It’s a sad fact of life that they aren’t always safe while working overseas.

Press Rights are Important for Freedom

While journalists from all backgrounds are subjected to scrutiny, those from the United States get to enjoy certain freedoms which others may not. The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution outlines the freedom of the press. This amendment essentially allows U.S. citizens to write about any subject without fear of imprisonment, though that is not always true.

Founding fathers of the U.S., James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, started the National Gazette to criticize officials and their newly-formed government. Freedom of the press has been essential since the founding of the United States and continues to be pertinent to the American way of life. While Americans may be able to criticize their government and live without fear, doing the same in other countries can carry significant consequences. However, the rest of the world isn’t only worse-off compared to America.

Though the U.S. has freedom of the press, it isn’t even in the top ten countries with the most press freedom. Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, Jamaica, Belgium, New Zealand, Denmark and Costa Rica make up the top ten countries with the best freedom of press laws. The United States sits at 45 in 2018, which is a decrease from 43rd place in 2017. China, Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea are the bottom five countries with the worst freedom of press laws.

According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, there are currently four imprisoned journalists and 36 who have been attacked here in the U.S. These figures are small potatoes compared to Turkey’s 73 imprisoned journalists and China’s 41. So while we may not be the best, we’re far from being the worst.

Turkey has Largest Number of Imprisoned Journalists

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule has been problematic for journalists as well as academics, elected government officials and human rights workers.

According to IRIN, “50,000 people have been jailed for suspected ties to the attempted takeover.”

A coup was started in July 2016 which resulted in mass imprisonments and overcrowded prisons. Journalists, like Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan, have been jailed for allegedly sending concealed messages to those who participated in the attempt to overthrow Erdoğan. The brothers face the possibility of life in prison.

“Allegations of torture and mistreatment in prisons have also increased over the last year. Prisoners have reported being held in stress positions over prolonged periods, while also being subjected to sleep deprivation, beatings, sexual abuse, and threats of rape,” wrote IRIN staff.

Agencies in charge of the oversight of prison conditions have been disbanded since the coup, which has allowed the Turkish prison administrations and guards to operate without constraint.

Turkish political prisoners are reported to be treated more harshly than other prisoners since Erdogan became president. They are often transferred to prisons far from their family and court proceedings, thus weakening their resolve and defense.

Sometimes journalists aren’t subjected to hard-time while abroad, only to experience horrifying treatment within their home countries.

Journalists experience hard-time abroad

American journalists do have a hard-time abroad and face comparatively little resistance within the U.S. When American journalists are captured or arrested, it is widely-broadcast across the country.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, two journalists from the United States, were arrested in North Korea in 2009. The duo was accused of entering the country illegally in March 2009 and later found guilty. Lee and Ling were on assignment reporting about North Korean women being trafficked out of the country.

According to an Associated Press article, “The Central Court in Pyongyang sentenced each to 12 years of ‘reform through labor’ in a North Korean prison after a five-day trial, KCNA said in a terse, two-line report that provided no further details. A Korean-language version said they were convicted of ‘hostility toward the Korean people.’”

North Korea is vastly different from every other country in the world as their leader, Kim Jong-Un, is fiercely private about the way their country works. The borders are heavily guarded, and all punishments are severe.

Lim Hye-jin, a former North Korean prison guard, described the inner workings of the North Korean prison system in The Daily Mail. If found guilty of some crime, the punishment is often hard labor. Within the prison, prisoners are often beaten, tortured, raped or killed. Punishments can be collective, as to warn other inmates not to repeat anything perceived as wrongdoing. Hye-jin said most guards did not see prisoners as people and treated them horrendously.

While Lee and Ling were released before being sent to a hard labor camp, they could have faced similar punishments. Not only do journalists face a hard-time abroad, tourists can as well, in cases like Otto Warmbier’s and Kenneth Bae’s.

Reuters journalists jailed for archaic law

Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone are two journalists working for Reuters, an international news agency. The pair are from Myanmar and cover controversial issues within the country.

In December 2017, Soe Oo and Lone, were investigating the massacre of Rohingya villagers in the Rakhine state at the hands of the Myanmar military. The Rohingya are an ethnic minority group and predominantly practice Islam in a largely Buddhist country.

The two journalists met police for a meal after which they were arrested on suspicion of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, due to their possession of information about the Rakhine state. They pleaded not guilty and were held in custody for more than 300 days.

After suspicious happenings throughout the proceedings by officials, the Reuters journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison on Sept. 3. There has been no information to where they are or how they will be detained.

Myanmar’s most notorious jail for political prisoners, Insein, is widely-known for its torture and inhumane treatment of inmates.

A former inmate, Philip Blackwood, was in Insein for more than a year. At the beginning of his sentence, he was kept in a small cell with no windows and a hole leading to an open sewer for a toilet. Blackwood endured a hard-time abroad and lived through a nightmare of less-than livable conditions in a prison known for its inhumanity.

For a free world to prosper, there must be freedom of press. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved.”

Journalism itself faces a hard-time abroad in countries that oppress voices critical of power. Reading and writing contribute to societies by offering alternative perspectives, whether it be a first-person account of a war zone or retelling tales of an elderly person’s youth. These alternative perspectives must be protected in order for humanity to progress.

Freedom of speech has been restricted in every country across the world at some point in history, and the free-thinkers are always the persecuted.