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Shaming Offenders Misses the Point; Rehabilitate Them

By Christopher Zoukis

Over the past several years, a number of criminal justice and social commentators have discussed the idea of shaming or guilting as an alternative sanction for minor criminal wrongdoing.  They have suggested that shaming or guilting is less expensive, more effective, and allows the offender to stay in the community -- thus enabling them to continue to work, take care of their children, and try to make amends for their crimes.  While the ideas of shaming and guilting are an interesting form of social chastisement, they miss the point by simply making the criminal feel bad about their actions, while failing to treat them for what ills them.  This might make us feel better since the lawbreaker is receiving just deserts (retribution for their crimes), but fails to fix the problem in the first place.  And this places Americans in a precarious position: feeling good about the shaming of the offender, but leaving us with a false sense of security since the underlying problem has not been resolved.

Several years back, in a Boston Globe essay entitled "Shame Is Worth a Try," Dan Kahan suggested that offenders should be shamed for their crimes, and that these shamings will change the offender's behavior and make them no longer engage in such activities.  He supported his belief by stating that the "sanctions are much cheaper than jail" and "allow the offender to continue earning an income so he can compensate his victim, meet his child-support obligations, and the like."  Kahan argued that "shame is cheap and effective and frees up scarce prison space for the most serious offenses."

The examples presented by Kahan are colorful and intriguing, particularly for victims of crime.  Employees in Wisconsin who steal from their employers "might be ordered to wear a sandwich board proclaiming [their] offense[s]."  In Florida and Texas, drunk drivers "might be required to place conspicuous 'DUI' bumper stickers on [their] car[s]."  And in Virginia, a person who refuses to "make [] child support payments," might "find that [their] vehicle has been immobilized with an appropriately colored boot (pink if the abandoned child is a girl, blue if a boy)."  For many, such punishments bring a warm sense of retribution for the offender getting what's coming to them.  After all, who doesn't want to see a deadbeat dad held accountable for his failure to pay for his own children or a person convicted of a DUI forced to slap bright orange bumper stickers to their car proclaiming that they are a drunk?

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Re-Entry Programs

Watch the first 2 minutes of Coming Home: The CARE Program, a documentary film produced by Bucknell University students for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The film focuses on a community-assisted re-entry program in the district.


Former Ohio Corrections Director Helps Released Inmates: Terry Collins Re-Entry Center a Success

By Christopher Zoukis

It isn't often you hear about corrections officials standing up in public and declaring that inmates who inhabit our prisons and jails are mostly people who "made a mistake that can be fixed."  It's probably even more rare to hear about one of them retiring from the prison industry and continuing to work toward helping prisoners stay out of prison, not keeping them in.

Yet, that's what has happened in Ohio: former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Terry Collins, made his comments at the grand opening of a new multipurpose facility designed to help ex-offenders make it in the community.

Collins was so invested in the idea that prisoners could be rehabilitated that before retiring as director four years ago, he was known for saying "We need to stop sending people to prison because we're mad at them."  And now, the new re-entry facility in Chillicothe bears his name, The Terry Collins Re-Entry Center.

Unlike many other high-level public corrections officials who fill their retirements with consulting jobs in the private prison industry or professional correctional associations, Collins hasn't missed a beat in his lifelong quest to provide education and support to those leaving prison -- rather than keeping them locked down, mere fodder for an ever growing prison industry that right now cages more than 2 million men, women, and children.

To learn more about the Terry Collins Re-Entry Center read The Columbus Dispatch's article "New center to help inmates move from prison to society opens."



College Studies from Prison: How I Draft My College Papers Using The Federal Bureau of Prisons' TRULINCS Computers

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy

Federal prisoners do not have access to word processors.  Instead, we have access to typewriters and Trust Fund Limited Inmate Communication System (TRULINCS) computers which allow us to draft electronic messages -- like emails, but not exactly the same -- which we can send to approved contacts.  Since word processors are so handy when drafting and revising text, I often utilize the TRULINCS electronic messaging system as the next best thing to write my school papers.  By adhering to the six following steps, I can use the TRULINCS electronic messaging system to draft quality school papers.

Step one is to merely draft an electronic message containing the school paper.  I do so by logging into a TRULINCS computer in my housing unit, selecting the "Public Messaging" option, and selecting the "Draft" icon.  This allows me to draft an electronic message.  Once in the new message file, I can draft as I see fit, though this is done within the system parameters.  Two such parameters concern length of the message and time spent within the electronic messaging folio.  Messages are allowed to be a maximum of 13,000 characters and prisoners are only allowed to spend 30 minutes at a time in the public messaging folio.  As such, if I want to write a longer article or essay, I have to use multiple electronic message files.  Also, if I draft for longer periods of time, I have to log on to work, log off for the requisite 30 minute period, and log back on.  It can be expensive: using the service costs five cents a minute.

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Book Review: Banking and Financial Management Course (1st Ed.), by Prisoner Assistant

Reviewed by Gary Hunter 

Life outside prison crosses the minds of most prisoners daily, but how many times do those thoughts include the direction of their financial future? Prisoner Assistant has put together a helpful text book, the Banking and Financial Management Course, specifically designed to help prisoners understand and plan for their future finances.

Banking and Financial Management offers a detailed description of how financial institutions operate and how they can be successfully used. The reader will learn the subtle differences between a debit card, credit card and ATM card, for example. The book also describes a number of fee-based financial services offered by Prisoner Assistant.

Chapter one addresses banking basics with a concise explanation of what financial institutions offer and how they work. Debit card and credit card functions are clearly explained. Prisoner Assistant even provides a list of questions that will help you find the financial institution best suited to your personal needs.

Chapter two examines savings accounts, and illustrations take the reader through an easy to understand, step-by-step process. Technological advances now offer everyone a variety of ways to access their funds once they are deposited in a financial institution.

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A Montessori Prison Education

Prison is one of the most un-fun places one can live and work. Preschools are all about fun. But both are about preparing people for the real world. Brian argues that we can unlock the future of prison education by relearning the lessons of preschool.

Brian leads the offender education program for Peninsula College at two state prisons in the northwest corner of Washington state's Olympic Peninsula. As Associate Dean of Basic Skills and Corrections, Brian started the first prison-based Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (IBEST) program, a nationally recognized curriculum for adult education in Washington state. He began five new vocational programs including Sustainable Horticulture, Artisan Baking, Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Green Building and Computer Programming and Development. In November 2013, Brian was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change, one of "10 local heroes who are taking creative approaches in using technology to enhance learning for students in communities across the country."


Alabama Will Spend $5.4 Million For Inmate College Courses

By Christopher Zoukis

In 2015, Alabama will spend $5.4 million on its prisoner postsecondary education program, to include Calhoun Community College's courses at Limestone Correctional Facility.

Five schools across the state provide college-level certifications.  The Community College courses are separate from adult GED programs in the state's prisons.  According to the Alabama Community College System, in Fall 2013, 1,000 inmates were enrolled.  The number of diplomas and certificates are impressive: 254 short-term certificates, 61 certificates, and six associates in applied technology were awarded by the system.  Board policy doesn't allow inmates to enroll in courses that transfer to universities.

Lawmakers allocated the money this spring and were approved by the State Board of Education last week.  The $5.4 million is the same amount spent on postsecondary prison programs this year.

Calhoun Community College has eight full-time and one part-time staff members specifically assigned to the Limestone Correctional Facility.

The college's spokesperson, Janet Kincherlow-Martin, stated that the college spends more than allocated on this program for prisoners, the difference coming out of the school's institutional funding, which is also state-allocated money.  She has also said that there are times when they have to have additional funding.

The certificates Calhoun Community College offers prisoners include welding, construction trades, design drafting technology, and horticulture.  A total of 148 inmates are taking these classes this summer.

To learn more about this terrific prison education program, read the Times Daily's article "State will spend $5.4M for inmate college courses."

This video publicizes how problems brought to light within Alabama's prisons have prompted a broader discussion about overhauling the state's criminal justice system.

How can Alabama stem the flow of people entering prison to begin with? And, for those who are incarcerated, how can they be prepared to effectively and safely re-enter society?