Notes from the desk of peace activist Polly Mann (b. Nov. 19, 1919)

The desperate need for prison reform

Linda Franks of Baton Rouge, La., turned a room in her beauty salon into a meeting place for the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition, exemplifying what is happening to prison reform all over the country. One example is Vanessa Fano’s brother who experienced a psychotic break after 92 days in solitary confinement. The Rev. Alexis Anderson, a member of the coalition, said in her view people whose loved ones have died in confinement should be seen in the same light as those whose loved ones have been murdered by gangs or the police.
Andrea C. Armstrong, who co-authored the 2017 report about conditions at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, also wrote a 2020 article entitled, “The Missing Link: Jail and Prison Conditions in Criminal Justice Reform,” for the Louisiana Law Review, in which she examined 23 states that had participated in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, many of which had made significant reforms in their laws.
Steve Martin, a lawyer and a corrections consultant in Oklahoma, says that one consistent thread in the cases he has examined is obfuscation and denial: “Sometimes officials justify the application of force by claiming that a prisoner was experiencing a bout of ‘excited delirium.’”
Another disturbing incident took place in a state prison at Macon, Ga., which housed 128 prisoners overseen by one guard. According to the Southern Center for Human Rights, 29 homicides occurred in Georgia in 2020.
Some criminal justice reform groups fear that focusing on the conditions of incarceration may backfire. Some feel it would be better to concentrate on facilities and programs for prevention.
There is no question from any of the groups that improvement in standards needs to be well thought out and action should be immediate.

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