Monday, July 15, 2013

Grad School For Crime? A View From Buckingham Prison

Stephano “Steve” Colosi, Jr. #1037581, an advocate for prison reform I correspond with from the Buckingham Correctional Center, recently wrote the following about the ongoing problem of gang activity inside his facility:

All prisons have gang problems, this one is no exception. They terrorize the weak among us, steal from them, etc. The administration tries to separate them as best they can, but are not always successful. Their tattoos are photographed in order to figure out their affiliations, area code 804 for Richmond, 757 for Tidewater, etc. They have rituals such as "beat-ins" and "beat-outs". They make weapons and keep things stirred up for those of us who wish to be left in peace. They don't bother older guys too much, especially if they are 6' 4" and 215 pounds like me. We stick together and protect the weak ones when we can.

The problem with the system is that there is no longer parole available. There is little motivation to rehabilitate oneself or get involved in positive things. Many of the programs have been cancelled because the Department of Corrections knows many guys will never go home. Prior to 1995, a life sentence generally meant 12 1/2 to 15 years if the inmate had a good record and participated in positive programs.

Prison changes people--generally for the worse--by the sheer fact that we have no normal interactions with society or positive role modes. Locking folks up for 20, 30, 40 years cannot have a positive effect. I get the punishment aspect, but when is enough enough?

Maybe we should talk about other prison systems around the world. Did you know that no matter how severe the crime, that in Germany 20 years is the max, with seven years considered a lot of time of incarceration?

Virginia abolished parole when Clinton was president and offered federal money for building new prisons. What happened was that small communities became addicted to the jobs and money and now the state is reluctant to reverse the no-parole laws due to potential negative economic impacts. So taxpayer money is s essentially being recycled to create jobs. This has become Virginia's largest industry and the State's biggest payroll force--yes, more than transportation and education! Lost souls, viable folks are paying the price.

After 5-10 years there are diminishing returns on this whole prison industrial complex, resulting in 'old folks' adding up and eventually overwhelming the system, and with rising health care costs taking away the community money Virginians so desperately need--at great human expense. I could go on for days on this.

- Steve Colosi 7/10/13

I hope to visit Steve soon, and will be glad to share with him any of your concerns or comments. You can also write him at Buckingham Correctional Center, Box 430, Dillwyn, VA 23936.

Read more Mr. Colosi's concerns on geriatric release for aging prisoners in an earlier post.

For some earlier posts on criminal justice see

Here's an excellent link to another blog piece about "Aging Behind Bars," by Viviana Shafrin.
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