Unyielding — the Catch-22 of America’s Parole System

freed from prison, people enter a parole system that throttles their freedom to renter society effectively and infringes on their privacy, your Friday long read from the Washington Post

We go to the Washington Post for this week’s long read by Jennifer Miller, read the whole article “The Endless Trap of American Parole.” We include key excerpts below to convince you it’s worth your time.

The parole system claims to help people reenter society, but is it really the most effective way? William Palmer’s story shows it might not be.

“Palmer was working hard to rebuild his life. It’s why he’d joined Returned Citizens. Like his fellow actors, Palmer had discovered theater during his incarceration and found it to be a powerful rehabilitative tool. Through a program called Shakespeare for Social Justice, he learned to collaborate, cultivate empathy and reflect deeply on his life choices. Returned Citizens was helping him continue this work on the outside.”

“Opening night wasn’t until June; Palmer had plenty of time to complete his show. But a lot could happen in four months. He had barely been out of prison a year, and already he’d been back to jail three times for a total of 20 days. That’s because, though Palmer was out of prison, he was now on parole. As such, he had to comply with a state-mandated list of supervisory conditions, along with 31 “special conditions” that had been imposed on him specifically — or risk getting sent to prison again. The conditions affected where he could go, the activities he could join, with whom he could socialize and the amount of privacy he had.”

“When Palmer was released from prison in 2019, there were so many parts he wanted to try on: student, mentor, social justice advocate, thespian, independent human being. He did not realize the state-run reentry system had different expectations for him — in fact, an entirely different view of what rehabilitation looked like. Palmer was frequently typecast as a dangerous parolee. And if he went off-script, there would be consequences.”

Underscored

“Rehabilitation, of course, can take many forms. The federal government and 34 states, including California, have policies that allow some prisoners to receive early release for “earned time” — completing vocational, self-improvement or educational programming. Some states actively help inmates tailor this programming to their individual needs. Utah implemented one such law in 2015, amid a host of other reforms. Indiana enacted a statute in March 2020. Minnesota is considering similar legislation.”

“Among these activities, theatrical performance has an especially strong impact on prisoner psychology and behavior. In 2014, Larry Brewster, a professor at the University of San Francisco, published a study about three prison arts programs, including Shakespeare for Social Justice. He found that participating prisoners gained greater emotional control, the ability to communicate with others and intellectual flexibility. They had fewer disciplinary infractions and were more likely to pursue additional vocational and educational programming.”

Bottom line

“We don’t all agree on what rehabilitation is,” says Rita Shah, the Eastern Michigan professor. “Even if we operate under the assumption that rehabilitation is to stop committing crimes, what it takes to get to that point, how strict to be, or whether one mistake [sets you back] all depends on the person. Rehabilitation is so amorphous that [in practice] it doesn’t necessarily connect with what folks involved in the system want or need.”

Read the whole article here.



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