Arkansas adds solitary cells; others reverse flawed trend
As the Arkansas Department of Correction administration and appointed Prison Board scramble to get out of the daily news cycle they are now asking for more solitary cells to quell the troubles within the system.
As Arkansans, we, have tried the old lock-’em-up formula for decades. There are slight changes to the state’s prison and parole system said to be coming. But there seems to be no end to the raging tide of increasing prison population in our state.
Arkansas, has one of the states among the nation’s highest rate of incarceration per 100,000 citizens – we are fast becoming the No. 1 state with the most of its citizens per capita behind bars.
It is not an easy task — the Department of Correction houses almost 16,000 people behind bars each day.
A recent revelation of a failure to hire adequate prison guards and other correctional employees unveiled a shocking deficit in the number of needed personnel to run the prisons. One has to wonder if more and more responsibilities for jobs and tasks within the department have been returned to that old and tragic management policy of the past – the inmate trustee system.
In a trustee system, convicted prison inmates run the prisons. The federal courts once proved that Arkansas’ prisons were indeed operating a dark and dangerous place for those convicted and sentenced to prison by jurors and the court system.
This week, Rick Raemisch, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Correction, has spoken out against the systematic punishment of adding more solitary cells to a prison system in an effort to make the system operate more efficiently and safely.
In an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Raemisch wrote in an article entitled: “Putting an end to longterm solitary.”
He, like the folks in the Arkansas prison system, for years had a ready answer for inmates he wanted to punish – send that prisoner off to a cell the size of a parking space. This is called administrative segregation.
Enhancing this program is what Arkansas’ prison administration and the state Board of Prisons are heading into – at breakneck speed. The prison’s administration and board are calling for more wire to build more pens for these inmates. They also want more and more resources to be used to segregate these troubled inmates from the general population.
Pretty soon everyone will have their own individual cell. This seems to be the corrective mindset to get the prison system out of the news, the Prison Board back down to policy matters — so the governor of Arkansas can breathe easier in his office far, far away from the trouble and troublemakers behind bars.
Raemisch writes that long-term isolation incarceration leads to and aggravates mental illness. Under his watch, Colorado prisons have almost eliminated this punitive practice.
We know the Arkansas prison system, and even our local jails, are filled with people who are suffering from some form of mental illness. Many more are locked up for being mentally ill than for committing a traditional crime.
An expensive fix the Arkansas Department of Correction desires is adding more means to place inmates in solitary cells.
A less-expensive and long-term fix would be to finally accept the premise that providing more and better mental health care within our state’s prison system would lead to a safer place for the guards, administration and yes, even the other inmates.
No jury has the direct intention to sentence a man or woman to a solitary sixfoot by nine-foot cell, and in doing so aggravating a lingering or hidden mental illness into the harming of others – even those within the state’s care – in our prison system.
But we have to shed the lock-’em-up mentality.
It is simply not working and overburdening our state’s resources unlike any other state service paid for by the taxpayers.