In IAHR’s April 2021 Newsletter, you will find an article on Passover and Easter by Rabbi Chuck, an update on bringing the Parole Authority back to DC, A Letter from Prison by Marqui Clardy on “An Overly Punitive Prison,” A Volunteer Opportunity at IAHR, a notice on a grant that was awarded, and links to news articles on solitary and criminal justice.
Passover and Easter usually fall within days of each other. This year the last day of Passover (April 4) is Easter. Good Friday falls on April 2 which is the sixth day of Passover. It is not surprising that these holidays fall so close to each other. The New Testament story of Jesus’ trial, judgment, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection occurs during the holiday of Passover. The New Testament borrows the Jewish imagery of the holiday and transposes it onto the story of Jesus’ final days. For instance, in ancient times Jews celebrated the holiday by purchasing a lamb, slaughtering it near the Temple in Jerusalem, and then feasting on it during the first night of the Passover holiday. In the New Testament Jesus becomes the lamb who is slaughtered. In the New Testament the message is that in death there is life. There is a promise of being resurrected into a world without any suffering following death. Jesus’ suffering on the cross is a way to atone for the sins of humankind. Following death there is redemption through resurrection.
On Passover, Jews celebrate the redemption from Egyptian bondage. But they also look forward to a future redemption when all humankind will be redeemed from the sorrows of this world:
devastating poverty, senseless violence, and other kinds of human suffering. The redemption from Egyptian bondage gives hope that there will be a future redemption for all of humankind. Additionally, Jews believe that there can be personal and even communal redemptions prior to the final redemption that encompasses the whole world. At the Passover Seder which is a service celebrated in Jewish homes on the first nights of the holiday, Jewish people affirm that every person should see him or herself as having left Egypt! There are times when we all suffer our own mini-Egypts: a time of alienation, pain, and sometimes abuse. During those times we pray for God to help us pass-over and through the challenges we are facing.
During this season when both Christians and Jews celebrate the hope of redemption, let us be inspired to reach out to at least one of the millions of men, women, and children who are incarcerated in our country. By reaching out to them we can give them some hope and confidence that there are people outside of prison who care for them. Reaching out to incarcerated men and women during the time of Covid-19 is particularly important since so many prisons are in lockdown. This means that everyone has been in solitary confinement during this last year. One way you can do this is by signing up to become an IAHR pen pal. Click here for more information about the pen pal program and the way to sign up for it.
Last month we featured a special report on “Bringing the Parole Authority Back to the District of Columbia.” Since that time we have learned that time is of the essence. We are still waiting to see if Mayor Bowser will insert in our budget funding for a new Parole Authority. Without that funding in the 2022 budget, it is unlikely the District will be able to take over Parole in 2022 or even 2023. We are appealing to everyone to write Mayor Bowser asking her to fund a DC Parole Authority in the District’s 2022 budget. Please copy your letter to the Mayor to Council Member Charles Allen who is chair of the Council’s Judiciary Committee. Here is a sample letter you can send.
As a District voter and taxpayer, I urge you to include funding of at least $5 million in your 2021-2022 budget for a District Parole Authority. Such funding will assure a smooth passing over of the authority of the United States Parole Commission to the District of Columbia.
Sincerely, Your Name
For more background, please read these articles:
Jails and Justice: Our Transformation Starts Today, pp.67-73.
Guest Editorial: What Entity Should Be Used for Local Control of the District’s Parole Function? By Phil Fornaci
Petula Dvorak, Could D.C. statehood reach all the way into the prison system? Washington Post, March 25, 2021
When Louis Sawyer of D.C. spent time in federal prison, he was shipped from state to state, because D.C. does not have its own prison system. He’s seen in 2010 in Church after his release. (Carol Guzy/The Washington Post)
An Overly Punitive Prison
What happens when you continually punish a child when they do wrong, while never rewarding them when they do good? When has this sort of rearing method ever been known to produce a positive long-term effect on that child's behavior? Never. In fact, this overly punitive rearing method has been proven to produce negative long-term effects. Although offenders are not children, the "corrections" aspect of the criminal justice system can in several ways be likened to a form of rearing. Just as it is a parent's duty to rear their children into respectable adults, the justice system exists to rear criminal offenders into productive members of society. But where prison administrations go wrong is by acting as the overly punitive parents in response to offender behavior. Just as this practice always yields a negative long-term effect with child rearing, the same negative outcome can be expected with regards to offenders.
When offenders exhibit poor behavior, such as breaking institutional rules, staff are allowed to punish us in countless ways. They write infractions; put us in solitary confinement; fire us from our jobs; take our commissary, phone, email, and visitation privileges; order us to pay fines; transfer us to stricter, higher-level facilities; even add additional time to our prison sentences. The list of punishments at their disposal is too long to fit in this essay. And there is no limit to how much punishment can be doled out to any single offender; meaning if he perpetually displays poor behavior, he will continue being punished again and again and again for each incident.
Good behavior, on the other hand, goes largely unrewarded in prison. In fact, the only reward is being placed at the highest "good time" level. But this is not a genuine reward, as it simply allows us to remain eligible for our state's truth-in-sentencing percentage. Unlike the never ending scroll of punishments, they use for poor behavior, staff do not continue rewarding us for positive strides such as earning college credits and vocational trades, completing rehabilitative programs, making personal accomplishments, remaining free of infractions for extended periods of time, etc. For those deeds, we aren't hired for jobs or given pay raises. We aren't given extra commissary, phone, email, or visitation privileges. We aren't continually transferred to lower-level facilities to be among other model inmates. Most importantly, we aren't allowed to earn extra time off of our prison sentences. Unlike the near infinite punishments allowed for poor behavior, there are no substantive rewards given for good behavior.
IAHR is looking for a volunteer who will assist Gay Gardner, IAHR’s Senior Advisor for Virginia. For the last six years, Gay has been corresponding with many men and some women in a number of Virginia state prisons. Through this correspondence,
many alleged human rights abuses have come to light. This is the way that IAHR discovered that attack dogs were being employed to maintain order in a number of state prisons. Gay is looking for an assistant who can help her with this correspondence. The number of hours per week is negotiable. Remuneration comes from God and the satisfaction of helping some of the most marginalized people in our society.
If you are interested and would like more information, contact Rabbi Chuck at [email protected] and leave your phone number. Rabbi Chuck will contact you.
The Virginia Coalition on Solitary received a $34,000 grant from Unlock the Box Campaign which is a coalition of organizations and movement leaderswho partner with state and local campaigns across the United States working to end the use of solitary confinement for all people.
The Virginia Coalition consists of IAHR, ACLU-VA, Social Action Linking Together (S.A.L.T.), and Virginia-CURE. The money will be used to promote outreach to other organizations, religious communities, and individuals in Virginia. It will also be used to educate advocates on the best ways to reach out to legislators in next year’s legislative session.
Solitary and Criminal Justice in the News
Opinion: Governor Cuomo, End Long-Term Solitary Confinement Inmates can spend 23 hours a day in a tiny space cut off from most human contact. That’s cruel.