Transfers from prisons to jails an injustice

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bridgingthegapA biweekly column in which various contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.

At the most basic level, the primary difference between jail and prison is the length of stay for inmates. Jails are usually run by local law enforcement and/or local government agencies. They are designed to hold inmates awaiting trial or serving a short sentence. Prisons are typically operated by either state government or the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). They are designed to hold individuals convicted of more serious crimes, typically a felony. Prisons are better developed for the living needs of their populations, with a greater availability of programs and better facilities.

Prisons offer inmates the opportunity to receive an education, have a job, and spend time in-person with loved ones. Prison phone justice is an ongoing issue, as rates to make phone calls can be $17 for 15 minutes. In county jails, rates are even higher causing a strain on inmates and loved ones. Jails do not offer any job opportunities and the transient nature of the facilities put inmates at safety risks. (Introductory information provided by Voices for Racial Justice.)

On June 4, 2014, I published an article in the MSR titled “Questions to the Commissioner.” I asked why Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy was sending prisoners to the county jails when there were so many other more productive options at his disposal, such as home monitoring or extended work release.

While the Commissioner never responded personally, I know he read the article. Warden Eddie Miles questioned me at a community meeting on the North Side about a statement in the article that the Department of Corrections (DOC) was historically and traditionally racist. I found that somewhat strange, since word on the street is that Warden Miles was part of a group of people of color against the DOC to break up the “Good Old Boys Network.”

At the time, the information I heard about the devastating experience of being transferred to a county jail after doing 10 years in a correctional facility was secondhand. Today, I write with firsthand knowledge of the hardships it causes a person, not just financially, but mentally, emotionally and psychologically as well.

First, the price of phone calls increases 1,000 percent, from $0.75 to $7.50. On top of that, we are charged $1.00 to use subpar clippers for a haircut, even when we have our own tools. Lastly, and most importantly, the upper bunks do not have a ladder or guard rails to stop someone from falling out while sleeping. The bed (platform) is about four and a half feet up, so any fall while sleeping could cause serious injury if not death.

I am experiencing these hardships after spending 17 years in correctional facilities taking educational, life skills, and other programming such as IFI (Inter Faith Initiative). I have taken all these steps in an effort to prepare for the trials and tribulations of the real world and my new life upon release. These conditions are enough to teach even the most reformed criminal that doing the right things just is not enough.

Just keeping it all the way real with you: The DOC isn’t sending any problem inmates to the county jails. Therefore, if you do everything that is asked of you and more in an attempt to become a better person and productive member of society and save your money to help ease the burden on your family and friends, your reward is a county jail.

You can no longer touch your loved ones. You are no longer provided a job, trade or education to help prepare for your release. You will spend most, if not all, of the money you saved to spend upon your release.

I have heard people talk about spending $20,000 for the year in jails, and I have seen a financial statement where they have spent $6,000. I guess it’s like Naomi Gains stated in her answer to the article: “It’s all about money.”

I don’t know if it’s illegal to send us to the county jails. I do know that I have requested a copy of the contract, statute, rule, regulation or policy that allows for us to be sent to the county jail, though I have not received it yet. I have not gotten a DOC memo explaining what is going on, how long I am here, or even why I am here. All I know is what I’m told by the deputies at the county jail.

Additionally, we have been reclassified from prisoners, offenders or inmates to “detainees.” We are not legally detainees, because we have been convicted of a crime. Prisoners have rights that detainees do not have. Just ask the accused terrorists in Guantanamo Bay about the rights they are given versus the rights federally convicted terrorists have.

I guess it really is “all about money.” Why else would this be the only option for able-bodied men who have been preparing themselves mentally and emotionally to re-enter society for over 10 years? Allow us to go to work in the community and have a chance to become productive members of society.

Instead, prisoners are forced to spend their life savings on necessities (soap, toothpaste and deodorant) and communications (expensive phone calls) that used to cost a fraction of the price we pay in county jails. This is the reason we, as prisoners, need an Ombudsman to make sure our constitutional rights are protected.

To me, it becomes obvious that, like Michael Jackson said, “They don’t really care about us.”

 

Lovell Oates is a participant in Voices for Racial Justice’s “Bridging the Gap” partnership. Reader responses are welcome to info@voicesforracialjustice.org. To learn more about the organization’s work, visit www.voicesforracialjustice.org.