How Conservative Policies Influence Privileges in Prison

By · Friday, October 24th, 2008

I received a question from a reader who wanted my opinion on the ways that conservative court policies influenced privileges in prison. My experience as a long-term prisoner has convinced me that federal judges rarely intervene in prison matters. They generally defer to prison administrators to make the rules. When courts do intervene in prison matters, I have come to expect that conservative judges will rule in favor of prison administrators and against those in prison.

The only example that comes to the top of my head concerns a ruling that prohibits federal prisoners from watching films with ratings that are more severe than PG-13; prisoners cannot watch R-rated movies. In that same ruling, courts have upheld decisions that ban magazines that depict any nudity. Although some might construe such rulings as a violation of First Amendment rights, conservative judges have agreed that inmate exposure to nudity can potentially threaten the security of the prison.

Prisons, however, are not run by the judicial branch of government. The legislative branch of government makes the laws, and the executive branch of government oversees the ways that prisons operate. In the federal system, the President appoints the director of the Bureau of Prisons. The director presides over thousands of subordinates who carry out the director’s policies.

During the more than 21 years that I have served, conservative policies have taken away privileges from prisoners. Educational opportunities have been decimated. Parole programs have been eliminated. Recreational programs have been cut. Programs for visiting or to enhance family and community ties have become more restrictive. We now are limited to an average of fewer than 10 minutes of day in telephone time. With conservative policies in place, prisons are punitive, much more like human warehouses than places of correction.

Despite the lack of access to privileges, I have thrived through the years I served in prisons of every security level. I wrote about my strategies in my topical report series entitled Thriving Through Prison. The articles included there may be of interest to individuals about to embark upon a prison term.

I am convinced that if administrators offered opportunities for prisoners to earn freedom through meaningful incentives, more of the people in prison would work toward becoming contributory citizens. The current punitive policies contribute to high recidivism rates and threaten the stability of society by extinguishing hope.

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