Robert Forrest, American Renaissance, July 2011
Prison life as seen by a guard.
I work in the prison system of Maryland, a high-tax, big-government, politically correct blue state. The state’s thinking about crime and corrections is typically liberal: Everyone knows that it is expensive to keep someone in prison, so why not invest in rehabilitation, and keep inmates from coming back? The theory is that most of the young men in prisons had deprived childhoods in poor, inner-city neighborhoods, so most of them can redeem themselves if we “level the playing field” through education and training and give them a second chance. This approach is supported most strongly by prison system bureaucrats who get a nice paycheck and fat benefits by providing the education and training. No one seems to be willing to point out that this approach doesn’t work.
The theory of rehabilitation means that, at least in Maryland, every prisoner — even those serving life without parole — must have the chance to earn a GED. Since many are barely literate, in some cases that would be close to 12 grades of education. Rehabilitation also means drug abuse treatment, and countless classes in such things as parenting and anger management that are intended to turn people away from crime. Many institutions have production facilities such as metal, wood, and upholstery shops, where criminals get vocational training (and can find raw material for weapons). There is even an office technology program where inmates learn about computers.
This commitment to “rehabilitation” means that although Americans think they see realistic depictions of prison life in television programs, such as Lockup, there is a great deal they never see. Most taxpayers would be surprised to learn that some convicted murderers and rapists have televisions and Sony Play Stations in their cells. They would be surprised to learn that prisoners can subscribe to pornographic magazines.
“Rehabilitation” does not end at the prison gates. When an inmate is released, taxpayers continue to pay for what is supposed to be a transition back to civilian life. Released cons get new ID cards issued by the Motor Vehicles Administration and duplicate birth certificates and social security cards. There is also a whole range of services to help prisoners with job placement, medical treatment, and housing.Federal law requires that inmates get one hour outside their cells every day, but it is only prisoners in administrative or disciplinary segregation who get no more than that (see “Integration at its Worst,” AR, Nov. 2009). In Maryland, everyone else gets two outdoor recreation periods of one or two hours, as well as an indoor rec period. Besides that, there are prison jobs that run from cooking to janitor work to plumbing and electrical repairs. And, of course, inmates get food, shelter, and medical care — all provided at tremendous cost to Maryland’s heavily burdened taxpayers.
Needless to say, none of this stops inmates from complaining about their treatment. It makes no difference what they get from us; they always want more. The thought that some hard-working stiff has to pay for it does not cross their minds. It’s not enough to have cable television; they insist on certain channels. It’s not enough to have better medical care than many honest citizens on the outside; they want to tell the doctors how to treat them. Gratitude is alien to these people.
Something else that is nearly universal among prisoners is a complete inability to accept any responsibility for their actions. Most of them are, of course, black, and it is interesting, if hardly encouraging, to listen to them talk. They try to sell you a vision of a world in which racist cops rampage through poor neighborhoods, shaking down blacks and arresting or even shooting them without cause. Some try to convince you these things happen every day, as if the police actually had time for racially motivated witch hunts between answering radio calls. If they are in prison it is the fault of the police.
It is this complete lack of responsibility that dooms rehabilitation from the start. Just listen to black inmates who are close to release. Many started selling drugs as teenagers and have never had a real job in their lives. A few black inmates really do want to leave the thug life behind and support themselves, but they are rare. Others complain about the lack of “guaranteed jobs,” and seem to consider this an excuse for not looking for honest work. If they do talk about jobs, they want to know about programs that are there to help them. For many of them, the thought of looking for a job without direct government help is inconceivable.
After four years with the Department of Corrections, I have learned that “therapeutic incarceration,” as I call it, does not work — and it’s not just an impression. It doesn’t seem to matter how much we spend trying to reform prisoners; they’ll be back.
In 2008 the US Department of Justice released the results of a 15-state study of 272,111 released prisoners. No less than 67.5 percent were rearrested within three years. That was 5 percent more than the recidivism rate the DOJ found in a 15-state study conducted in 1994.
The actual recidivism rate is probably even higher. Leonard A. Sipes, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, says the rate reported by the DOJ is too low because the study was based on a review of rap sheets, which are often incomplete. If a police agency doesn’t report an arrest to the state, it won’t appear on the rap sheet — and a certain number of arrests just slip through the cracks. Mr. Sipes estimated that the actual rearrest rate within three years of release was greater than 85 percent.
Crime is a young man’s game. After the age of 50 or so, the chances of a man being arrested are close to zero, so the one almost-always reliable rehabilitation program is old age. While men are in their high-crime years, from late teens to early 30s, job training and anger-management don’t make much difference.
Of course, many offenders are sentenced to life without parole, so they will never be rearrested. In Maryland, those are people who are in for only the most heinous crimes, such as multiple murders and gruesome rape/murders. Typically, an offender who has four prior incarcerations and a new conviction for several counts of armed robbery can still expect to return to the streets someday. And the theory is that he will have been reformed by parenting and anger-management training and is no longer a threat to society.
Wrong. Many inmates have had as many as 20 arrests and four to five prior incarcerations. I’ve seen a criminal history in which the inmate’s first arrest was at age nine. The consequences of this catch-and-release system can be deadly. One convict who got out after less than half of a 10-year sentence for rape went on to rape and murder a seven-year-old boy. The millions and millions of dollars Maryland pours into “rehabilitation” are money down a rathole.
The state — and the nation — also assume that prisoners are constantly abused by guards and need ever-stronger legal remedies. Every liberal who makes it into the Oval Office corrupts the federal judiciary by seeding it with judges who are willing to hear increasingly frivolous inmate lawsuits. Enter “lawsuits against correctional staff” into a search engine and you’ll get plenty of hits.
It is not easy to find statistics on the number of suits inmates file against correctional staff, but we know there are a lot. The federal courts were overwhelmed, and ordered the states to create an Administrative Remedy Procedure (ARP) as a filter. This is the first-level screening of inmate complaints and is decided by an ARP coordinator within the prison. Complaints can be ludicrously trivial, such as the amount of recreation time prisoners get or the selection of television channels. Prisoners may complain about their medical treatment, and frequently file a complaint against the staff for allegedly damaging a radio or television set during a search. The overwhelming majority of complaints are dismissed at this level.
A complaint that survives the ARP process goes on to the Inmate Grievance Office (IGO) stage, where it is heard by an administrative law judge (ALJ). This is a formal, costly procedure; one Maryland prison spends just short of a quarter of a million dollars a year on the IGO process. If the ALJ finds in favor of the prisoner, he can win compensatory damages.
Inmates know how to work the system. Like all predators, street thugs have an instinct for weakness and a knack for exploiting any system. Prisoners know their complaints cannot be summarily dismissed without at least an interview with prison staff, and a few inmates spend most of their free time writing up complaints just to make trouble.
Any street cop or anyone who has worked in the corrections system knows who the criminals are. I can leave the “race” field filled in in advance on the forms we use at work. According to Department of Justice statistics blacks are seven to eight times more likely than whites to be incarcerated. About 9 percent of the black population is under some sort of correctional supervision — be it prison, parole, or probation — compared to 2 percent of whites. At the institution where I work, the overwhelming majority of inmates are black.
Everyone knows this, of course, but in this politically correct environment you have to be careful about mentioning it. Some staff talk about race with others they trust, but the hierarchy is well salted with affirmative-action employees, especially in the Baltimore region and at headquarters, so candor can be punished.
Whites prisoners are, of course, heavily outnumbered, as are Mexicans, so they generally stick together. Many blacks and Mexicans are already affiliated with a gang such as the Bloods or MS-13 before they come in, and benefit from gang protection. The most powerful white prison gang in Maryland is called Dead Man Incorporated, and it has been able to offer protection to its members through the dubious strategy of carrying out contract violence for the Black Guerilla Family. BGF is mainly a prison gang but has some street presence as well.
Occasionally, there is racial violence. Over the last several years there have been major disturbances caused by fights between Dead Man Incorporated and the Bloods. However, in my experience, most of the violence is within gangs and therefore within the same race. It is usually punishment for failing to do some job the gang wanted done or for trying to leave a gang.
Black street thugs care a lot about what they call “respect” which, for them, means making others fear them. They are quick to take offense if they are “disrespected,” though most will quickly back down from anyone who is not easily cowed.
There is always the implied threat of violence, even against prison staff. Not long ago, an inmate in a segregation ward got angry when I refused to pass an item from his cell to an inmate in another cell. He started yelling about being “disrespected,” and that I’d better watch out, because he was in for murder. I think he was lying about that; he just wanted to scare me. At the time I was on the evening shift and could not check with an employee who had access to the inmate’s criminal record.
It’s fairly common for a black inmate to accompany a request for something impossible with a thinly veiled threat of violence: “Whus keepin’ me from actin’ up (trying to hurt you) if I don’ get what I want?”
Short of violence, inmates know that if they file a complaint — even for trivial matters — it results in a great deal of bothersome paperwork, and can conceivably lead to disciplinary action against prison staff. Therefore, prisoners sometimes threaten us with written complaints, administrative remedy procedure filings, or just “I’m gonna call my lawya!”
I remember one black street thug who tried to argue with me for a good half hour while I was running “rec hall,” trying to convince me that he was going to get me in trouble with a lieutenant and get me fired. His complaint was so minor I can’t even remember what it was, but I will never forget his threat that he would “have my job.” “Dis is my career,” he screamed, waving his arms and throwing his hands like a rapper to punctuate his threats. “I been locked up since I was fo’teen and dis is what I do!”
Some prisoners are smart enough to realize that a constant gangster attitude doesn’t pay. After several years, inmates with long sentences understand that the institution is home, and that fighting with staff only makes things harder. Many lifers eventually become well behaved and even use flattery to try to get their way.
Sometimes you don’t know if blacks are being menacing or just strange. Recently I was walking a tier and heard an inmate singing “Kill all da white boy hillbilleezz” over and over, like a mantra. I stopped by at his cell door and laughed. “I thought all you brothers could sing,” I said. “I can see I was wrong.” This inmate stopped singing rather than get angry.
The mainstream press almost never writes about this but, yes, blacks frequently masturbate publicly at the sight of women. Why don’t they show more self-restraint? I don’t know, but I think it must have something to do with the callous attitude toward women that is so deeply embedded in the ghetto.
There is rape in prisons, but at least in my experience, it is not as widespread as it is portrayed in the movies. Occasionally inmates will have consensual sex with each other. Some of these thugs would gladly have sex with anything.
Guards and prisoners
The liberal image of a prison is of swarms of armed, uniformed guards who dominate the inmates. The grim reality is that a corrections officer is vastly outnumbered and surrounded by inmates through much of his shift. (There are a few high-security institutions that have a better inmate-to-staff ratio but they are exceptions.) In Maryland, only officers who are posted to tower or perimeter patrol or who transport prisoners carry firearms.
It may seem strange that most prison guards do not carry a weapon, but there is a reason for this. If you are inside the perimeter, a group of prisoners could overpower you and take your weapon. Instead, most guards carry pepper spray, which is actually pretty effective. It produces a nasty burning sensation, makes the eyes and nose run, and — most important — people shut their eyes when they are hit with it. Most aggressors stop in their tracks because they can’t see and because suddenly all they can think about is the pain they are in. However, a few people — those who have been sprayed many times or who are high on PCP or crystal methamphetamine — can shake off the spray and keep on fighting. Pepper-spray symptoms usually wear off in about an hour.
Prison violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by inmates, usually against each other. There are sharp limits on how staff may respond to an attack. An incarcerated thug can throw a mix of urine and feces on an officer or even stab him, but we can do no more than get him under control. No matter what kind of outrage may have been done to us, we must do nothing physical once an inmate is no longer a threat. Anything more can lead to termination, a civil suit before a malevolent federal judge, or even criminal prosecution. An inmate may pay for violence with a few years added to his sentence or may have to spend time in segregation, where he will lose television and basketball privileges. An inmate who already has a lengthy sentence has little to lose.
A Maryland thug named Brandon Morris is a good example of how things go wrong. In 2006, he got himself admitted to a hospital outside of his prison by deliberately stabbing himself. He knew that once he was in a hospital he would be guarded by just one officer. Mr. Morris waited for an opportunity, made a grab for the officer’s weapon, and killed him. Officer Jeff Wroten was white, had five children, and was nearly eligible for retirement. Mr. Morris was a 20-year-old black who was in for armed robbery and assault. The police soon caught Mr. Morris and should have ended his sorry existence in a hail of lead, but that doesn’t happen in this kinder, gentler criminal justice system. Mr. Morris just went back to prison. He was tried for killing Wroten but escaped the death penalty.
Another brutal truth about prison life is corruption. Inmates can get their hands on alcohol, drugs, cell phones, and weapons with surprising ease. You read about drug lords in Colombian or Mexican prisons living in luxury, running their drug empires from prison. It’s not quite that bad here, but surprising things find their way into prisons.
Several state prisons in the Baltimore area are staffed primarily by blacks, many of them women. This often means inmates are supervised by people from their own neighborhoods. Corruption is so rampant that factory-made knives have been found in areas accessible only to employees. Some prison employees have even been gang members.
Corruption in Baltimore was so bad that when the US Drug Enforcement Administration arrested 24 members of the Black Guerilla Family on April 16, 2009, four of them were prison employees. Agents found that the BGF had recruited prison staff to smuggle in drugs and cell phones, and to help extort money from other inmates and their families. At the Metropolitan Transition Center in Baltimore, BGF members smuggled in champagne, vodka, and seafood.
Corrupt female guards sometimes have sex with inmates. They can actually be criminally charged for this, but administrators do not want the bad publicity of a prosecution. Offenders are usually fired quietly and escorted to the gate.
As they are now run, prisons are hideously expensive. When I first entered the profession, I was taught that the average annual cost of keeping an adult locked up is $40,000. The US prison population jumped from 319,598 in 1980 to 1,518,559 in 2006. The number of people under some kind of correctional supervision including prison, pretrial detention, and parole or probation grew from 1,842,100 in 1980 to a staggering 7,308,200 in 2008. All this costs money.
State expenditures on criminal justice rose from $10.6 billion in 1980 to $69.0 billion in 2006. Local governments pay even more, with criminal justice spending surging from $20.9 billion in 1980 to $109.2 billion in 2006. As the US population becomes increasingly non-white, the number of prisoners — and their costs to the taxpayer — will only grow.
A huge part of the money goes toward new prison construction — sometimes under court order — because of overcrowding. But a lot of the spending is for America’s army of police, corrections officers, and parole/probation officers. As the convict population grows, states are struggling to hire enough security staff to keep up.
The staff often feel badly outnumbered. It is not easy to find comprehensive data on the ratio of staff to inmates, as there is a lot of variation among the states and among different prisons within states. However, in 2008, the American Correctional Association calculated that Illinois had about 7,700 security staff to supervise more than 43,000 inmates. Simple division gives you a ratio of six to one, but don’t forget: Staff work shifts and take days off, while inmates need supervision 24 hours a day and never take a day off.
Illinois ranked 32 out of 44 states studied, meaning that 31 states had higher staff to inmate ratios, but 12 had worse ratios. Not surprisingly, the unions that represent corrections officers howl about this sort of thing because high inmate-to staff ratios can be dangerous.
This issue gets headlines only after a major incident, such as the June 2008 fatal stabbing of Jose Rivera, a guard at US Penitentiary Atwater in California, or the deaths of two Maryland guards who were killed in separate incidents in 2006. While the public eye is turned away, prison officials quietly give inmates more favors and benefits in a painfully obvious effort to purchase peace. Over the years, administrators have given inmates video games, television, basketball tournaments, and longer recreation periods in thinly veiled efforts to avoid riots and violence.
If rehabilitation is a lost cause — as I believe it is — what would keep inmates from returning to prison again and again, until they finally get a life sentence? The common sense that the so-called experts and professionals lack would tell us that incarceration should be unpleasant. Once you have been in you should never want to go back. However, the brutal American prison in which redneck guards beat inmates with rifle butts exists only in Hollywood.
The welfare system feeds the problem by encouraging thugs and their various girlfriends to produce yet more thugs. It is the norm for inmates to have a couple of illegitimate children. A black inmate who has had six children with five different women is not unusual. Also, most inner-city people have had a haphazard upbringing by a grandparent or older sibling because one or both parents were in jail or on drugs. A prison course in office technology is not going to change these people.
Despite what the “experts” tell you, therapeutic incarceration is a failure. The welfare system ensures that the criminal class will grow, and the police cannot prevent street crime. If you’re a high-level bureaucrat or wealthy businessman — the kind of people who perpetuate this rotten system — you can live in a gated community or out in the distant suburbs. The only price you pay is a longer commute.
The rest of us have to rely on the Second Amendment.
[Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the July 2011 issue of American Renaissance.]
About Robert Forrest
Robert Forrest lives in Maryland.