Debtors Prisons, Return of in Mississippi

The Mississippi Department of Corrections runs the modern-day debtors prisons it calls restitution centers. But not very well.

The agency doesn’t keep close track of how much people sentenced to the program earn and owe, according to dozens of current and former inmates interviewed by Mississippi Today. That makes it hard for them to figure out how long they need to work at mostly low-wage jobs to make enough money to earn their freedom.

Mississippi prohibits the workers from handling their own earnings and gives them little documentation of their debts. Where their money goes and whether it reaches the victims of their crimes remains a mystery to most inmates we talked to.

Anna Wolfe And Michelle Liu, ‘Something seems fishy’: Bad bookkeeping and poor oversight plague a Mississippi inmate labor program, Mississippi Today

Sentencing Reform in Oklahoma

TAFT, Okla. — Julie Faircloth walked out of an Oklahoma prison near the head of a line of nearly 70 women who were freed on Monday, as part of one of the largest single-day releases of prisoners in the nation’s history.

They were greeted by screams of joy from relatives who had gathered outside the prison, a minimum-security facility southeast of Tulsa. Hugging first her mother, then her husband, Ms. Faircloth, 28, said she was overwhelmed. “I can’t even put words to it,” she said.

Across Oklahoma on Monday, 462 inmates doing time for drug possession or similar nonviolent crimes had their sentences commuted as the first step in an effort by state officials to shed the title of the nation’s incarceration capital.

 

Voters forced the hand of Oklahoma lawmakers in 2016 when, by a wide margin, they approved a plan to shrink prison rolls by downgrading many felonies to misdemeanors, including simple drug possession and minor property crimes.

Nearly 500 Prisoners Freed on a Single Day
Oklahoma has one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates, but a law downgrading minor crimes is the first step in an effort to change that.
Kristi Eaton and Richard A. Oppel Jr.
NY Times

The Power of the Press, Ted Conover on the Impact of Newjack

Did my book result in any reforms in the corrections system? I like to think so, but I’m sure of only one. In Newjack I describe B-Block, the immense building where I worked. Housing six hundred inmates, it is one of the largest freestanding cellblocks in the world. Horrific and very dim inside, it seemed as if the windows hadn’t been washed in fifty years. I included that detail in the book. The wife of a B-Block inmate sent me an e-mail after visiting her husband and wrote, “My husband just wanted you to know that a month after your book came out, they washed the windows.”

So there’s the power of the press for you.

Ted Conover, on his book Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, quote taken from Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University