The below commentary is offered to you by a prisoner who is a veteran of many "inside" mediations between prisoners and staff within the Ohio correctional institutions. Harry "Jake" Walton has become the calm voice of reason that has quelled potential disturbances within the prisons he has resided in for the past 15 years. His emphasis is on finding that oh-so-essential middle ground that any two sides, long in opposition to each other, must stand firmly upon if true solutions to persistent problems are to arise and persevere. His opinions reflect the methodical, precise thinking of a man who has done battle with the state in the courtrooms, sometimes achieving astounding success in his efforts. His proposals below are rational and "workable" solutions that need your attention.
Some of Mr. Walton's opinions are also held by Peter Davis, the executive director of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC), a bipartisan governmental watchdog over the ODRC. The "Position Paper" of the CIIC stresses the need for Ohio legislators to address quickly the emerging unrest of Ohio prisoners. This unrest is creating a potential security threat to both prisoners and correctional officers, because of the APA's resistance to paroling those prisoners who have demonstrated initiative, moral courage, and the all important attitude adjustment that the parole board officials claim is so vital in determining who is a good parole risk. We, at FADS, urge you, families and citizens, to write for your copy of this "Position Paper" to get the CIIC's informed opinion as to the need for the APA to CHANGE its practices. You can get this copy by writing to:Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, 16 East Broad St., 9th Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215. Simply request their "Position Paper" in writing, or call: 614-466-1990, and ask for it from any of the research assistants on duty. Once you have read it, write, call, email, fax, and bombard your duly elected representatives and senators, and the governor, or send them copies of the "Position Paper" for them to read, and hold them accountable as the public servants that they are. Prisoners, a copy of this paper is supposed to be in your prison legal library. You may have to ask for it. If it is not there, notify someone at the CIIC.
Also, let it be noted that this editor is a dues-paying member of CURE-OHIO. This editor does not necessarily agree with all that Mr. Walton has expressed in his comments directed toward CURE-OHIO. But, in the words of a great poet/visionary of a earlier time -- "Opposition is true friendship." For it is only when our opposition and disagreements are open, that thoughtful examination of each other's positions becomes possible. From there we must struggle onward, to reach that essential, but elusive, workable middle ground.
I find it odd that I even felt compelled to write this letter; however, I feel that remaining silent would only add to an obvious problem. It is easy to lose one's objectivity when dealing with corrections issues. We inmates do so, as does the ODRC, at times. This loss of objectivity only serves, in the long run, to promote more of a breach than exists already, and it does not solve anything.
I am writing out of concern that CURE-OHIO seems to be undermining its integrity with the public it claims to serve. I fail to see how an article such as the "Top Ten Frivolous Bills," within the May/June '97 newsletter, promotes credibility of CURE. I have been in the ODRC as a prisoner for over 15 years, and I have never held my tongue concerning abuse of power or plainly bad policy statements made by Ohio state officials. GIven the fact that Senate Bill 2 was such an expansive legislative act, it is logical to expect additional bills such as House Bills 49, 5, and 4.
Crimes against children are too often crimes against a voiceless victim. The fact is, by the time most children come of age, overcome their humiliation, and seek to prosecute, that the statute of limitation of 7 years has long passed. (HB49) Such an assurance of this type, for victimizer over victim, only adds to a pedophile's odds of never being held accountable; thus, it actually promotes the feeling and reality among child molesters that they have little incentive not to rape children. For this organization to advocate exemption for child rape, due to time limits which protect the offender, is not in the public interest, nor is it the view of any prisoner I know, except child molesters.
The enhancement of child related offenses to 3 years mandatory is an attempt to eliminate plea bargain justice, whereby the offender can utilize the age factor of the victim to his or her own advantage during the prosecution stages involved, thus pleading down the impact of sentencing. Such a bill seems pro-children and pro-incentive for child molesters to get help prior to actually raping a child.(HB4)
As for your personal attack on Reginald Wilkinson pertaining to income from tobacco items sold in prison commissaries -- you were out of line. While the Director of the ODRC is not on my own favorites list, your statement of the facts regarding profiteering on the product is oversimplification. First of all, profits from the commissary go toward the purchase of things like recreation equipment. Second, the inmates would spend no lesser amount in the commissary. The amount of pay, being an average $18.00/month, would still be spent in the prison commissary. The issues of concern by Mr. Wilkinson were primarily related to the facts that 8 out ot 10 inmates are smokers; other states have had very severe reactions; and the additional expense relating to control of the inmates once tobacco was banned. The very real fact that one pack of cigarettes now sells for $50/pack in the county jails where tobacco is banned in this state, demonstrates that such a ban creates additional and very expensive security concerns far beyond the revenue savings sought. (HB89 -- decried by the ODRC as potential threat to prison security -- ed.'s note)
Relating to your comments on House Bill 111 -- again, your information is not accurate. BAP is for non-drug infractions, in the same unit as SAP, which is for class II, rule 7 violations, which include possession or use of any intoxicating substance. The level one is 90 days in SAP, level 2 is 180 days, level 3 is one year. Cocaine, heroin, and over one gallon of alcohol or homemade wine is level 3 on a first offense. Otherwise, a first offense is a level one, second offense is a level two, and a third offense is a level three. Here at Ross, we already have an outside Substance Abuse program called Maryhaven, which is funded via a grant. This outside intervention, as you call it, assisted in the creation of the SAP unit currently in place, and oddly enough, if an inmate has been convicted of a substance abuse offense within 6 months of applying for the Maryhaven in-house- program itself, that inmate, under policy, may not enter the program. Support of programs such as these is nothing more than a financial interest promoted under the guise of increasing parole chances. Those who do not play ball are routinely continued at parole hearings. Thus, on one hand, we have another just-play-the-game deal; on the other, those who obviously have a problem can not get in. Besides, such programs often are abstinence based 12-step dogma and not effective long term. The incentive is coercion, via the parole board, so we often simply say whatever they wish for us to say. This does not mean that we mean it, or even believe it.
Most of the inmates who "use" differ from those who never come to prison primarily in how they view other people, how they treat other people, and for too many, it is flat-out a question of morality and values, or rather, a lack of them. Drugs do not steal -- people do. And creating this "poor me" attitude only enhances repetition of this mindset so unique to offenders. I've known alot of people who use alcohol or drugs that have never robbed, stolen, killed, or raped anyone. I've also known alot of guys who "played the game" in the early 80's (when being interviewed) because back then, claiming yourself as a victim, that you were an addict and you "would never have done such a thing if not for drugs," would get you sympathy. By pulling some AA or NA meetings, or getting back your "self-esteem," you would get a parole sooner, or get shock probation.
This nonsense over throwing urine in an officer's face due to not getting toilet paper, etc. for weeks is, in my opinion, total bull. (HB37 -- now a law) I've pulled serious hole time before, and these cell door warriors normally throw it on porters -- fellow inmates. The offender is usually some guy in P.C. (protective custody) who ran up a debt in population and then hopes he will be transferred, so he tries to catch more infractions. I'm sure that at some point in time, toilet paper was not forthcoming; however, this sort of response is hardly justifiable. Of the officers whom I observed being hit with urine or feces during my last 5 month stay in isolation, it was always a CO who was decent. The warriors never did it once to a CO who was straight-out anti-inmate because that sort of CO would do more than issue a conduct report. The point is this -- anyone can pour gas on a fire, the position of your newsletter will not earn respect or credibility of state officials by engaging in personal insults or cheap shots, or one-sided facts. Throwing human waste on anyone is disgusting, and yes, it does need to be addressed because it only breeds more resentment of inmates, in general, by COs. If it was thrown in your face, wouldn't you want the same lawful response?
The situation inside Ohio prisons is extremely volatile, at this time. The bitterness over the inequitable sentencing of us here prior to July 1, 1996, and those of SB 2, is quickly becoming a festering rage ready to erupt. These men are well aware that the Parole Board views us serving time under the old law as their only remaining job security. Whether it is true or not, that is the perception here. Programs are viewed as another excuse to not issue parole, and as inmates with flat time come in, we see less and less reason to remain calm about it. But -- cool heads is what this situation demands, and throwing cheap shots at the officials you must interact with only increases the ground you must make up in order to be effective.
The problem with retroactivity is that it would create a mass exodus, thus, it is viewed as political suicide. The ODRC is packed, it is operating under crisis management principles on a daily basis, and it cannot air out its dirty laundry in public. Throwing out insults, irresponsible reporting of facts, and one-sided opinions are what got us into this situation to begin with. These are not "workable solutions."
We know that previous good-time credit to pre-SB 2 inmates is in place; however, it currently only impacts parole eligibility on the first hearing. if that credit was applied to the maximum end of the sentence, the potential reduction would be up to one third per sentence. It would also provide a very much needed incentive for good behavior while serving that time, because once we see the parole board, pre-SB 2 inmates do not earn any good time credit at all thereafter. The ODRC needs this badly; the SB2 inmates can get bad time, but the current pre-SB 2 majority has the view that parole is not going to happen, and thus, they believe they have nothing to lose. Earned credit would give them incentive, ease tensions, reduce population gradually, until the impact of retroactivity is of an acceptable political level before eliminating the dual system now in place.
Earned credit would also enhance LSI type attempts by forcing the APA to act or to have no influence upon release of these inmates serving max-outs. An LSI type scheme would eliminate liability inherent within the current discretionary scheme of the APA which has been considerable, and why the APA has sharply reduced granting paroles in the first place. If a parolee obtains a new victim, that victim can sue the APA. This is not a legislative act; it is discretionary action, and thus, a liability. Eliminating that liability would save alot of money because the APA could not be held financially liable for the release.
Promoting social responsibility, teaching right from wrong, morality, the notion that law is society's social contract -- these things are truely needed. Another "poor-me" group session we can seriously do without. Teach respect for persons and property, teach moderation, teach job skills and budgeting. Teach that it is not acceptable to be a "low-life," and then, prison populations will go down.
Fighting for justice, equal treatment, humane conditions, and rehabilitative tools are worthy goals, but so are protection of the public, and acting decently. I get frustrated and angry like anyone else, but it does not solve anything. A fair and rational response will always prevail in the long run over impulsive or reactionary responses. If those of you out in society cannot look at all sides objectively, nothing will ever change at all, and those here, be they inmate or employee, as always will bare the brunt of it. You, who make up CURE, must remain objective or you do not do anyone any good, be they citizen, victim, or offender.
The lack of treating others respectfully in here, does not need helping along, nor does the degree of cynicism. We need real solutions to real problems, not greater divisions.