If you have a particular offense or long term sentence in prison, you are immediately flagged as non-priority and made ineligible for a majority of vocational, educational, or college programs, meaningful work assignments, Housing America applications. Your enrollment in these programs is delayed for years or denied indefinitely, depending on the nature of your sentence length or offense. In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine just passed a sentence reform bill, improving good time and a few other reliefs for Ohio prisons. But almost 60% of Ohio’s incarcerated population is ineligible for it, due to their sentence discrimination policies. And those policies—and mandatory sentence structures—have basically rendered that bill as useful as toilet tissue.
Prison administration, from case managers to wardens and directors, agree with and follow policies that are textbook discrimination. Policies need to change. I’m not suggesting a life sentence can get a job outside the fence. But I am suggesting long term residents here need more opportunities, activities, and programs. There is a responsibility on the incarcerated person to keep their conduct clean while incarcerated, and keep their security risk level low, so administration can’t be given a reason to discriminate you when applying for programs. We need to overhaul the process, top-to-bottom, and modernize the way sentences are served from beginning to end. And effectively end sentence discrimination. We need bold and urgent action.
People serving extended terms often have trouble functioning after release, ill-equipped in the workforce, because prison hasn’t given them anything to do for decades, almost. Depending on the length of their sentence, years are wasted without any meaningful activity. If there’s a lack of resources for these things, then we need to allocate them; if there’s a lack of that particular program or assignment, we need more of them, and we need to make new ones. If funds are a problem, the state needs to deliver, or let us pay for some things ourselves. It’s no secret that significant portions of federal and state prison funding end up in officials’ pockets and not our facilities.
Now, I have a modern, fairly progressive concept to introduce and it is within reason and reality. There’s legal obligations that need to be met for this, but what I’m about to introduce here is a real solution. I hope to meet with some progressive legal analyst someday soon, and discuss ideas and try to introduce a real policy in the future. Now, no doubt there are some departments in society that would seek the use and talents of incarcerated people. If an incarcerated person is willing to agree to transparent terms and volunteer for these applications, the benefits for society and humanity are astronomical. This would be something called like, the “Reclamation Department.”
This would be a new department—”Reclamation Department.” Incarcerated volunteers could apply as subjects for clinical trial testing, medicine and scientific research developments; they could develop coding, be taught and instructed to develop coding and computer software; their talents could provide material and music and entertainment industry; they could even occupy desk jobs taking phone calls; all while still in a secure separate facility accommodated by the state prison industry or the “Reclamation Department.” To quell that concern, they would still be in a secure separate facility. But every single person could find something to do, to fulfill their potential and contribute.
And that’s what this is about: reclaiming potential and giving people purpose. People can serve a sentence and still do these things. I’m here to challenge the policies that say we can’t. This is 2023. If I want to sign a waiver and volunteer in lab research, in return for some kind of benefits, while contributing valuable data and services to society during my incarceration, that’s my right. That’s a huge step toward reclaiming lost human potential in places like this. These are ambitious ideas, and that’s what we need. The bottom line takeaway here, they need to stop discriminating against applicants for their offense or length of sentence. We need to ensure and protect our funding. We need more modern programs, and to increase the capacity and scale of all programs. We need to provide more modern recreation options, if other opportunities are absent or ineligible. And most importantly, we need to implement the “Reclamation Department,” and ideas like that. We can no longer be a society where we throw our people away because of their mistakes. We need to repurpose them. The current penal incarceration system is primitive, and medieval at best.
These commentaries are recorded by Prison Radio.