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Uncaptive Minds
February 27, 2005 9:40 PM   Subscribe

The main business of Napanoch, N.Y., is a maximum-security prison, Eastern New York Correctional Facility, also known as Happy Nap... There is, however, a reason that inmates call the prison Happy Nap. Eastern is more relaxed than other maximum-security prisons, or 'maxes,' in upstate New York, with less hostility between staff and prisoners, and as a result fewer U.I.'s, or 'unusual incidents' -- stabbings and the like. It is said that the farther upstate you go, the harsher the prison conditions can be. Among New York's maxes, Eastern has one of the best reputations. It is one of only three maximum-security prisons in the state where you can still get an education -- not just in manual skills, but a proper college education with a degree at the end, thanks to privately financed initiatives. Uncaptive Minds
posted by y2karl (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
It was obvious to me, as a teacher, how precious education was to the students, not only because they could practically recite every sentence of the books and articles I gave them to read but also because of the way they behaved to one another. Prisons breed cynicism. Trust is frequently betrayed and friendships severed when a prisoner is transferred without warning to another facility. The classroom was an exception. We talked about Japanese history, but also about other things; one topic led to another. One day a guest lecturer spoke about pan-Asianism in the 1930's -- the Japanese aim to unite and dominate Asia by defeating the Western empires. My Vietnamese student remarked that he was a pan-Asianist with 'a small a,' but that really he was a 'panhumanist,' for 'we are all one race, right?' One of the black students snorted in a good-natured way. The Vietnamese smiled and said: 'I know we have disagreements about that.'

There cannot be many places -- in or outside prison -- where blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Muslims and Caucasians can discuss race and religion without showing hostility. A Muslim student, a big man from the Bronx, said he'd encountered little animosity to Muslims in prison. 'Sure, that's because we know each other,' another student said. I found this surprising, since prisons are not known for racial or religious tolerance. But perhaps they were referring not to the prison system in general, or even to the narrower confines of Eastern, but simply to the class. Then a black student, in for robbery, piped up: 'If I hadn't been in prison, I'd never have met any Jewish guys. I had all the stereotypes in my head, you know, cheap and mean. But now I'm hanging with a Jewish guy the longest time.'

posted by y2karl at 9:42 PM on February 27, 2005


Wow, I've never heard of this New York Times "magazine"! I'll have to check it out some time.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 10:20 PM on February 27, 2005


F*ck you too Steve_at_Linnwood.
posted by blasdelf at 10:59 PM on February 27, 2005


You don't even need to have heard of it S@L, because 10% of the article is posted right up there. No clicking required.
posted by FreezBoy at 5:24 AM on February 28, 2005


Now, that everyone's done sniping about trivialities, let me posit the idea that supporting educational programs in prisons is a good idea for society, not just for compassionate reasons, but selfish prgamatic ones. Most prisoners are going to get out someday and if they have more tools to stay out of trouble, that means less greif for the rest of us. Plus, this dosen't seem like some blow-off that inmates are using just to get out of mopping floors (Inmates have to go through an application process like any prospective college student: an essay, test scores, transcripts (G.E.D.'s for those who didn't finish high school) and an interview by Kenner and his colleague Daniel Karpowitz. 'The admission process,' Kenner said recently, 'is emotionally the hardest part of our work. Up to 200 apply for 15 spots.' Only 50 students, out of a prison population of more than 1,200, are now enrolled. ). The application process is all about effort, discipline and reward for it, which is an idea many in the criminal class may have never learned, or discarded as worthless.

This is not giving prisoners waterbeds and wide-screen TV's. This is something that's actually just good sense. No educational programs equals a convict out on the street 10 years later, no smarter than when he went in, and probably more pissed off, and I prefer less of that on my city streets.
posted by jonmc at 6:55 AM on February 28, 2005


Actually, I have heard of the New York Times magazine but I don't read it so I actually appreciate these sorts of stories being brought to my attention. The world needs a new model for the prison system and I'm happy to see that progress is being made.
posted by fenriq at 7:19 AM on February 28, 2005


Up to 200 apply for 15 spots.

And 185 are not going to get that degree, and that doesn't count all the rest who didn't even bother to try. I want every prisoner to get an education, and I hope it isn't just prison budget limitations that keep classes that small. Education is cheap compared to supporting even the guys who don't commit further crimes when they get out. The world doesn't need more experts in menial labor and watching television.
posted by pracowity at 7:33 AM on February 28, 2005


A well rounded, open education should damn near be a requirement of the prison system. Anything else would merely be punative rather than rehabilitative.

Of course there's not much incentive for the prison industry to actually reform criminals, all things considered.
posted by loquacious at 7:59 AM on February 28, 2005


A well rounded, open education should damn near be a requirement of the prison system. Anything else would merely be punative rather than rehabilitative.

Well, opportunities to get a high school education should be completely open (i'd actually support initiatives making getting a diploma a reuirement of probation, for instance) but more advanced studies should be merit-based just like on the outside. This is not because I want to restrict access to knowledge but 1)because it's pointless to train somebody in a vocation for which they don't have any aptitude and 2)it's important to inculcate the value of rewarding honest effort, since the desire to get something for nothing is often part of the criminal mindset.

Of course there's not much incentive for the prison industry to actually reform criminals, all things considered.

But there is for society at large. Somebody with a decent education ad/or job skills is less likely to want to hold up convenience stores.
posted by jonmc at 8:12 AM on February 28, 2005


A little more information about the prison and the program, which had its first commencement in January. I hadn't seen this account yet, thanks y2karl. Here's also an EU recommendation and a Northern Ireland white paper dealing with the subject that I think is quite good. I think this is the kind of program that works very well when it doubles as an incentive for prisoners, and a reward to reach for rather than a prisoner's "right". 50 of 1200 may be too low, but nor should college-level classes become a mandatory, automatic feature of jail (not that there's any danger of that happening). It's too bad also that many of the prisoner's advocacy organizations (unless I'm mistaken) devote hardly any attention to higher education policy in prisons.

On preview, pretty much what jonmc said too.
posted by loquax at 8:41 AM on February 28, 2005


The NY Times Magazine has some great stuff. This is their RSS feed, it's usually updated every Sunday or Monday.
posted by exhilaration at 12:13 PM on February 28, 2005


Related, in today's Times : In City's Jails, Missed Signals Open Way to Season of Suicides.

Related in that it discusses more of the flaws of the US prison system, particularly in the state of New York. And some serious flaws they are.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:48 PM on February 28, 2005


...let me posit the idea that supporting educational programs in prisons is a good idea for society, not just for compassionate reasons, but selfish pragmatic ones.

Exactly.
posted by y2karl at 1:08 PM on February 28, 2005


pracowity:

> I want every prisoner to get an education,

They are not all suited for education.

> and I hope it isn't just prison budget
> limitations that keep classes that small.

Taxpayers are not wild about buying lots of stuff for criminals.

> Education is cheap compared to
> supporting even the guys who don't commit
> further crimes when they get out.

Actually this is true. Keeping a guy in medium security costs about the same as keeping a kid in an ivy league college.


loquacious :

> A well rounded, open education should damn
> near be a requirement of the prison system.

Nice sentiment, but suggests lack of
familiarity with actual inmates.

> Anything else would merely be
> punitive rather than rehabilitative.

This is often considered perfectly acceptable.

> Of course there's not much incentive for the
> prison industry to actually reform criminals,
> all things considered.

The Department of Corrections is good at warehousing people. This is something we understand and know how to do fairly well. In theory prison is a convenient central location where you can rehabilitate people who have strayed. In practice trying to reform a grown man against his will turns out to be quite difficult, often impossible. What happens in practice is that the ones who have potential tend to use their correctional stay as a college for higher criminal studies.
posted by Ken McE at 4:38 PM on February 28, 2005


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