The Caging of America

Written by Melanie G. Snyder on Sunday - February 12, 2012.

sands-of-timeNew York (The New Yorker, January 30, 2012):A prison is a trap for catching time. Good reporting appears often about the inner life of the American prison, but the catch is that American prison life is mostly undramatic-the reported stories fail to grab us, because, for the most part, nothing happens. One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich is all you need to know about Ivan Denisovich, because the idea that anyone could live for a minute in such circumstances seems impossible; one day in the life of an American prison means much less, because the force of it is that one day typically stretches out for decades. It isn't the horror of the time at hand but the unimaginable sameness of the time ahead that makes prisons unendurable for their inmates. The inmates on death row in Texas are called men in "timeless time," because they alone aren't serving time: they aren't waiting out five years or a decade or a lifetime. The basic reality of American prisons is not that of the lock and key but that of the lock and clock.

That's why no one who has been inside a prison, if only for a day, can ever forget the feeling. Time stops. A note of attenuated panic, of watchful paranoia-anxiety and boredom and fear mixed into a kind of enveloping fog, covering the guards as much as the guarded. "Sometimes I think this whole world is one big prison yard, / Some of us are prisoners, some of us are guards," Dylan sings, and while it isn't strictly true-just ask the prisoners-it contains a truth: the guards are doing time, too. As a smart man once wrote after being locked up, the thing about jail is that there are bars on the windows and they won't let you out. This simple truth governs all the others. What prisoners try to convey to the free is how the presence of time as something being done to you, instead of something you do things with, alters the mind at every moment. For American prisoners, huge numbers of whom are serving sentences much longer than those given for similar crimes anywhere else in the civilized world-Texas alone has sentenced more than four hundred teen-agers to life imprisonment-time becomes in every sense this thing you serve.

PA Report on Children of Incarcerated Parents

Written by Melanie G. Snyder on Sunday - February 12, 2012.

Harrisburg, PA: House Resolution No. 203, Printer’s No. 1321, of 2009 was adopted on June 3, 2009, and Senate Resolution 52, Printer’s No. 708, of 2009 was adopted on June 8, 2009. The resolutions directed the Joint State Government Commission to establish an advisory committee to study the effects of parental incarceration on children of incarceratedparentsreportpicthe incarcerated parents; to recommend a system for determining and assessing the needs of children of incarcerated parents, services available to them, and barriers to accessing those services; and to report recommendations to the House and the Senate. To download a copy of the report, click here.

A 38-member advisory committee was appointed over the course of several months. Ann Schwartzman, Director of Policy of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, served as the chair. The advisory committee includes staff from the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, the Department of Public Welfare, the Department of Corrections, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, the Department of Aging, county government centers, police, and the Harrisburg School District. It also includes a judge, attorneys, college professors, representatives of various community-based and faith-based support services and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. The advisory committee held its organizational meeting on December 4, 2009 and met again on October 14, 2010 and January 16, 2011.

The House and Senate Resolutions reflect the growing awareness that children of incarcerated parents face unique obstacles unlike those of their peers. The first step in determining the needs of children of the incarcerated and designing effective interventions is to identify these children. Presently, no mechanism exists in Pennsylvania to collect and analyze data of this nature, thus the number and characteristics of these children cannot be ascertained.

Acknowledging the well-documented adverse effects of parental incarceration on children and its significant costs to communities, researchers identify two groups of recommendations that could help to solve or mitigate this problem.

New Miss America Speaks Out on Children of Incarcerated Parents

Written by Melanie G. Snyder on Saturday - February 04, 2012.

From SentenceSpeak on January 17, 2012:World peace. Starving children. Curing disease. All noble, worthy, and traditional causes that many a Miss America has picked up and used her platform to champion. But to our knowledge (we confess that we are not devoted followers of the pageant), the new 2012 Miss America will be the first to champion the children of incarcerated parents -- mostly because she is one herself.

USAToday Reports

Laura Kaeppeler[Miss Wisconsin Laura] Kaeppeler, 23, has an unusual background. She says she thought long and hard as to whether she should make her father's jail time for mail fraud part of her pageant platform, reports AP. Her father, Jeff Kaeppeler, served 18 months in federal prison for mail fraud, a sentence he started when Laura was entering college. He was backstage Sunday night with his daughter, who called him her "best friend."

Kaeppeler's mission: She wants children of incarcerated adults to feel less alone, to have mentoring and as much of a relationship with their parents as possible.

She majored in music and vocal performance at a private Lutheran liberal arts college in Kenosha and initially said she wanted to become a speech therapist, but now Kaeppler plans to use her $50,000 scholarship money to become a lawyer, specializing in helping children of incarcerated adults.

Wahoo! We extend a warm, heartfelt welcome to Miss Kaeppeler and admire her for shining a spotlight (literally) on this important issue. The United States is the world's largest jailer, with 2.3 million in prison and an additional five on some form of court supervision. There are over 1.7 million children with incarcerated parents in our country. Draconian prison terms -- including mandatory minimum sentences -- perpetuate our addiction to incarceration when better, smarter, cheaper options exist (and would keep families together).

We applaud you, Miss America, and invite you to join us in our work for justice!  Visit Miss America's website, Circles of Support, for more information about her worthy cause.

Study Calculates Losses to the Economy from Incarceration

Written by Melanie G. Snyder on Saturday - February 04, 2012.

Washington, DC: A recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research uses Bureau of Justice Statistics data to estimate that, in 2008, the United States had between 12 and 14 million ex-offenders of working age. Because a prison record or felony conviction greatly lowers ex-offenders' prospects in the labor market, we estimate that this large population lowered the total male employment rate that year by 1.5 to 1.7 percentage points. In GDP terms, these reductions in employment cost the U.S. economy between $57 and $65 billion in lost output.  For a downloadable copy of the article, click here.

Estimates suggest that in 2008 there were between 5.4 and 6.1 million ex-prisoners (compared to a prison population of about 1.5 million and a jail population of about 0.8 million in that same year). The calculations from the study also suggest that in 2008 there were between 12.3 and 13.9 million ex-felons.  In 2008, about one in 33 working-age adults was an ex-prisoner and about one in 15 working-age adults was an ex-felon. About one in 17 adult men of working-age was an ex-prisoner and about one in 8 was an ex-felon.

An extensive body of research has established that a felony conviction or time in prison makes individuals significantly less employable. It is not simply that individuals who commit crimes are less likely to work in the first place, but rather, that felony convictions or time in prison act independently to lower the employment prospects of ex-offenders.