City Journal Autumn 2014

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Bert Useem
New York’s Prison Turnaround « Back to Story

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Hi Bert - Jim Austin here - can you send me a chart or references for the following data - would like to use it in a new report.


New York prison violence has come down dramatically, too. In 1983, there were 26 assaults against staff per 1,000 inmates; in 2008, the rate was nine per 1,000. During the same period, the rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults declined from 26 to ten per 1,000 inmates. Long defined in the public mind by the 1971 Attica uprising, New York’s prison system has not seen a major incident of collective violence in over a decade. New York has also reduced the threat of inmate escapes almost completely: after a peak of 31 in 1994, the number of escapes has plummeted to zero in 2008 and one last year.

This downward trend in the inmate-violence rate actually understates the state’s progress in reducing violence behind bars. From 1999 to 2008, the number of inmates held in maximum security increased by 1.5 percent, while the number of medium-security inmates declined by 21 percent and of minimum-security inmates by 51 percent. In general, higher-security inmates commit more assaults than lower-security inmates do, which makes the decline in the rate of inmate violence all the more impressive.
J. Norman Sayles, that is a fascinating statement. Do you have any links to the sheriff and/or his study? I've seen direct results of sugar and antisocial behavior all my life and would love to see some proof behind this hidden culprit. Thanks!
"Even" as crime stays low?? Doesn't low crime determine a low prison population????
One of several docs I am sending to you.
I have some interesting material on youth centres and prisons in the States which I will send to you. Denise
This is an interesting article but falls short with the meager examples for how this prison system has accomplished this goal. Gangs holding meetings and displaying colors? There is not a prison system in this nation that allows either. Inmates are all dressed alike. I would also go as far to say the only way to eliminate recruiting would be by segregating the inmate population by gang. As long as there is a gangbanger housed with a non-gangbanger, he or she WILL preach their gang mentality. And meetings? Come on... These "meetings" they describe could only be held during an inmate recreation time. Prison systems set up bible study for inmates wishing to attend, not "Crip classes" on how to be the coolest gangster on your block. So again, the only way to eliminate "meetings" during recreation time would be to classify these inmates as "Total Seperation" which means they cannot, at any time, come into contact with another inmate. The idea of running state and federally mandated recreation to each inmate, one at a time, would be absolutely impossible.

I am completely open to suggestions and it would appear that the New York DOCS have been doing something right. Perhaps a more in-depth article could explain better...
Years ago a sheriff reduced jailhouse assaults 80 % by practically eliminating suger from the inmates' diets. Surely the Sugar Combine buried that story. Families know some of their kids can't handle sugar without untoward consequences. Why should not caged criminals not have similar reactions?
Very encouraging. It is amazing that not permitting gangs "to recruit, hold meetings, or display their colors", seems to have been a new approach instead of a common-sense given that was always the case. Criminals need to be treated like criminals, and when they have finished paying their "debt to society", they should be expected to be and treated like any productive law-abiding citizen.
Good article, but I think the author could've researched more. One of the main reasons why the NY prisons have turned around is the fact that the DOCS is committed to keeping inmates occupied during their sentence, a task most prisons in other states don't do. Lack of activity is one of the main reasons why these inmates turn to crime and gang activity in the first place. The NY prisons have mandatory education and vocational programs. If an inmate does not have a HS diploma or GED, they MUST attend classes. One of the biggest programs in the system is the extensive horticulture program where inmates learn how to landscape and cultivate gardens. The fruits and vegetables harvested are then used in the meal service. Gardening may seem like an unlikely duty for a prison inmate, but the purpose is to give the inmate a sense of accomplishment after hard work. So the values of education, work, discipline and personal achievement all come together in NY prisons to hopefully turn some of these inmates lives around. This is what "rehabilitation" should be.