FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books

The United States continues to have the largest prison population in the World; with only 5 percent of the World’s population, it hosts over 20 percent of the World’s prison population. Instead of rectifying the mass incarceration crisis in the United States, federal and state prisons are scaling back the rights of inmates, often in favor of corporations seeking to profit off the prison industry.

In New York, Directive 4911A was enacted last month at three prisons in the state and could soon be applied to all prisons statewide. The program limits the packages prison inmates can receive to products distributed by six vendors. So far out of five vendors with available product lists, only 77 different books are available to be purchased, 24 of them coloring books and 21 puzzle books. Several New York State Prisons were already under a “TV Facility” directive, meaning prisons with televisions restricted inmates to just two food packages per year.

Activists and organizing against the directive pushed New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo to announce on January 12, “I am directing the Dept. of Corrections to rescind its flawed pilot program that restricted shipment of books & care packages to inmates.” Though he added that New York will continue to seek ways to “redouble efforts to fight prison contraband.”

In December 2017, the New York Times reported that the State of Texas has 10,000 books on its ban list, including several classic novels, while white supremacist texts like Hitler’s Mein Kampf managed to not make the list. The same month, the state of Mississippi issued a ban on books from non-profit agencies to prevent a non-profit called Big House Books from being able to donate books to prisons in the state.

In the wake of this trend across the country from state prison systems banning books being sent to inmates, the State of New Jersey banned  Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, in several of the state’s prisons, only to reverse it after the ACLU protested, calling the ban “unconstitutional.”

As several states enact rules and regulations that further restrict the daily lives of inmates, prisons across the country are further scaling back the rights of inmates by replacing in-person visitation with video call systems run by for-profit companies. Outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, in late 2017 the Jefferson Parish Correctional Facility completely replaced in-person visits with video calls that cost $12.99 per 20 minute phone call. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 74 percent of prison facilities that implement video call systems do so in tandem with scaling back or replacing them with in-person visitations rather than providing them as a supplement for families and inmates. At least 600 prison facilities across the United States have implemented video call systems. “When your relationship is mediated with a video screen that can become difficult for children who maybe might become distracted or wondering why they can’t see their parent, incarcerated parent in person. This is one of the most difficult times in a person’s life. going through incarceration, “said Lucius Couloute, a research associate at the Prison Policy Initiative, in an interview with me. “It’s a dehumanizing experience. Video calling systems are not bad in and of themselves but when you latch on exorbitant prices, the removal of in-person visits, all that contributes to what is really an exploitative industry that hurts incarcerated people more than it helps them.”

In-person visits and encouraging inmates to read have both been demonstrated to reduce recidivism. In a November 2011 study, the Minnesota Department of Corrections compared recidivism rates for 16, 420 ex-prisoners over a five year period, and found that those who had in person visits were directly correlated to a reduction in recidivism of those individuals. “Any visit reduced the risk of recidivism by 13 percent for felony re-convictions and 25 percent for technical violation revocations, which reflects the fact that visitation generally had a greater impact on revocations. The findings further showed that more frequent and recent visits were associated with a decreased risk of recidivism,” the study noted. In 1991, University of Massachusetts Professor Bob Waxler started a prison program called ‘Changing Lives Through Literature.’ In the program’s first year, participants exhibited a 19 percent recidivism rate, compared to 45 percent for a control group, and these findings have been replicated several times.

But rather than U.S. Prisons and public policy working to reduce mass incarceration, recidivism, and provide inmates with the infrastructure and support systems required to integrate them back into society, the rights of inmates and their families are being rescinded as part of policies that serve the best interests of the prison industrial complex and the corporations that thrive off it.

More articles by:

Michael Sainato’s writing has appeared in the Guardian, Miami Herald, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, Buffalo News, the Hill, Alternet, and several other publications . Follow him on twitter: @MSainat1

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail