The prison conditions in America have always been questioned, but now it seems that some conditions can be seen as unjust or inhumane. State governments are trying to intervene and provide necessities to the prisoners and improve the conditions in which they are living. It has even gone as far as governors and senators proposing reform bills to Congress.

What historical forces led to the rise of the movement?

  • Prisons were over crowded and many inmates were forced to "double bunk".external image moz-screenshot-2.png
    a glipmse at an over crowded prison (google images)
    a glipmse at an over crowded prison (google images)

  1. In California, prisons were forced to keep inmates in gymnasiums due to the lack of space in prisons.
  2. Currently, the prisons in California are overcrowded by over 70,000 inmates.
  3. The 3 strike law in CA is increasing the number of life sentences being given to prisoners, therefore making the jail be responsible for them and their living conditions.

  • Prisons are "crime factories" that often encourage violent and aggressive behavior.

  1. This creates an unstable environment for prisoners to be in.

  • Prisons are not providing adequate rehabilitation for prisoners, leaving many who are released to come right back, most within a year, also known as recidivism.
  1. 2/3 of people in prison have been in jail before.
  2. The U.S. needs to provide better rehabilitation to the inmates before they can be let out into society again.
  • Most people who are in jail are minorities.
  1. Guards are racist and are under a code of silence which protects their actions against prisoners.
  2. Police are more prone to be in an unsafe area looking for law breakers, such as a ghetto where the majority of the population is a minority.

  • The mandatory minimums for crack cocaine and cocaine differ completely.
    A diagram of what a solitary confinement cell looks like
    A diagram of what a solitary confinement cell looks like
  1. To get a 5 year sentence, one must have 5 grams of crack cocaine, while one would need 500 grams of pure cocaine to get the same sentence.
  2. This could be seen as racial targeting since most people arrested on the crack cocaine charge are either black or hispanic.

  • Solitary confinement and the effects on the prisoners.
  1. Prisoners in solitary confinement stay at super maximum security facilities, also known as "SuperMax prisons"
  2. Prisoners are locked in their solitary confinement cells for at least 23 hours a day.
  3. No visitors are allowed to come and see these prisoners, not even family.
  4. "Prisoners are confined to a concrete world in which they never see a blade of grass, earth, trees or any part of the natural world."
5. The cells are small, with little furniture, and the lack of interaction with other people, has been known to drive some prisoners crazy obtaining a mental health disease called paranoid schizophrenia.

What methods/tactics were used to lead the movement?

  • Writing bills and proposing new ideas from both state and federal government officers.
  • Violent riots broke out and brought attention to the problem
  • Books were published about experiences in prisons which brought this problem to the public's eye. This caused activists to take issues to court to try to improve the basic rights of prisoners.Examples
  1. Wolff vs. McDonnell (1974)- prisoners DO have many constitutional rights
  2. Toussaint vs. McCarthy (1986)-conditions of segregated cells in many major prisons were declared unconstitutional
  3. Madrid vs. Gomez (1995)-Deemed California's prisons unconstitutional and fixed probelms such as health care, punishments from guards and removing ill prisoners

What major figures were involved in the movement?

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Governor of California (google images)
Arnold Schwarzenegger: Governor of California (google images)

  • Gov. Schwarzenegger plans to add $10.9 billion to expand California's prisons, opening up 2 more major prisons which will house 45,000 more beds for prisoners.
  • He says that sentences now up to 2 years will be served in local prisons, instead of the present law of sentences more than 1 year being served in state prisons.

Jim Webb
external image moz-screenshot.pngexternal image moz-screenshot-1.png
Virginia Sentor Jim Webb has sights set on prison reform (google images)
Virginia Sentor Jim Webb has sights set on prison reform (google images)

  • Webb (D) is a senator from Virginia that seems to be the core of the present reform bill that will soon be presented to Congress.
  • Ignoring the current economic and foreign problems, Webb is trying to make reform his number one priority.

Was/is the movement successful in achieving its goals?

Conclusion: Prison reform is still a problem in America. It seems to be constantly pushed aside and so far has only received money to build more prisons or hirer more workers. This is helping but isn't completely solving the problem. It is understandable that there really can't be a perfect prison system and some think that prisoners are getting what they deserve. Yet when prisoners get realized that is a major problem. They have trouble adapting to "normal" society and find that all they know is crime and the prison lifestyle. This makes cons re-enter prisons and add to the number of prisoners.

Once a leader in prison reform spending $12 billion each year on their prisons, the state of Kansas had huge budget cuts and is now only spending $5.3 billion on prisons. This can be seen as a very bad thing for the reformists. Without money being spent to improve prison conditions, the prisons will not change.

The future of reform looks to be addressing solitary confinement and whether it is humane or not.
This video looks at how the criminal system should change, such as death row, DNA testing, etc. It also gives facts on the percentages of the races in prison, which can apply to the racism of the arresting officers of the inmates.

This video looks at prison reform in California and what Governor Schwarzenegger plans to do about it