Julie Reynolds is research fellow at the Center for Conflict Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS), where she also offers a course on American Gangs. As a journalist, she writes about criminal justice at The Monterey County Herald, and her reporting has been published or broadcast in The Nation, NPR, PBS, Discovery Channel, CBS’s 60 Minutes and other outlets. She was a 2009 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, and a 2011 Steinbeck Fellow at San José State University. Julie was a 2012 Three Strikes Reporting Fellow for John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and a 2007 Justice Reporting Fellow at the Institute for Justice and Journalism at USC Annenberg, researching the impacts of life sentences in California prisons. Her narrative nonfiction book on gangs in Salinas, California is due in fall 2014 from Chicago Review Press.
Prisoner Responses to Systems of Retributive Justice: Case studies of prisoners and restoration
Sending criminals to prison is the basis of modern justice systems around the world. Yet incarceration often fails to achieve some of society’s primary goals: to restore the community that has been offended and reform the wrongdoer.
Like others worldwide, the American prison population is dominated by the poor, the undereducated, the mentally ill, and communities of color. The difference between perpetrators and victims in these communities is often fluid, with a large percentage of prison inmates themselves victims of violence and sexual abuse. Yet many of us rarely question the assumption that prison is the necessary antidote to injustice, the only way we can conceive of to make things whole when violence occurs.
The purpose of prison sentences, as defined by American courts, is punishment, separation, and deterrence. California courts have in recent years officially dropped a final goal, rehabilitation, that was popular in some previous eras. Arguably, we’ve achieved success with the first two goals, but we generally fail to deter, correct, rehabilitate, restore, or reconcile—as current recidivism statistics show.
In the face of these failures, prisoners can and do come together to take their own steps to atone, to reform themselves, and to try to restore the communities they’ve harmed. This investigation looks at these signs of hope and restoration.
In 2012 and 2013, I observed the birth and growth of inmate-led initiatives inside two California men’s prisons: the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad and Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga. I corresponded with, visited, and interviewed prisoners who created organized systems for change and rehabilitation, as well as crime victims who participated in inmate-led initiatives. These programs were launched just as the state shut down almost all its prison-based rehabilitative programs.
The case studies look at the creation and preliminary impact of prisoner responses that address restoration and reconciliation, including a “Life Stories” booklet project; a Gangs Anonymous support group; Victims Awareness Week events; and a prisoner-led Restorative Justice Circle.
With varying degrees of success, the prisoners I studied have taken it upon themselves to give criminal sentencing a broader purpose than to simply warehouse people. This research explores how these inmates work together to make their prison terms better serve their communities’ desires to restore and reconcile.
Linda G. Bell (presenter), Ph.D. LMFT, ABPP, is a Licensed Psychologist and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She is Professor of Communication Studies (School of Liberal Arts) and Family Health (School of Nursing) at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), and Professor Emerita of Psychology and Family Therapy at The University of Houston – Clear Lake (UHCL). At UHCL, Linda developed and led a respected nationally accredited program in family therapy (1976-2006). Since coming to IU, she developed an on-going weekly psycho-educational group for women who are keeping their babies in prison with them, the Indiana Women’s Prison Wee Ones Nursery (WON) program, in which she brings interns from graduate family therapy and nursing programs into the prison to discuss family, personal, life skills and other issues as well as focusing on building a supportive community among a diverse group of inmates. She has taught courses in family wellness and healing in both a men’s and a women’s prison.
Connie S. Cornwell, M.A., LPC, LMFT, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She is Senior Supervisor/Faculty Associate at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Family Studies Center in Department of Psychiatry. Connie has over 30 years experience in couples and family therapy.
Lyndsay Curran, APRN-CNS is a mental health nurse practitioner, an assistant clinical professor at the Indiana University School of Nursing. For the last several years, she has been working with Linda Bell in the WON program at the Indiana Women’s Prison.
Restoring Positive Peace Through Family Healing Course
Families, Prison, and Restorative Justice: Persons in prison do not just suffer from incarceration, but their family members are also affected, particularly children. By taking a family system perspective past difficulties, hurts, and transitions due to a family member being incarcerated can be healed and peace and justice restored in the family. Researchers find that stronger ties between inmates and families and close friends during incarceration leads to decreased recidivism, improved mental health for all, and greater likelihood that the family will hold together after reentry. During post re-entry, family acceptance, encouragement and emotional support are associated with fewer negative dynamics in relationships, and increased likelihood of employment, and decreased drug use.
Prison Experience: While teaching family psychology at men’s prison in Texas, Dr. Bell found that helping the prisoners have positive and more just perspectives through the understanding of family dynamics led to important healing. It was amazing how one small insight, or one letter could have a major positive effect, both for the individual, and their family relationships. While working with mothers in the Indiana Women’s Prison (IWP), Dr. Bell and Ms. Curran discovered mothers in prison are worried about their children and many have difficult relationships with their children’s caregivers. Understanding family dynamics also had a more positive and more just perspectives for these relationships as well.
A tenet of family systems theory is that any changes in any relationship effect the whole system; so each positive shift has multiple ramifications. Thus even one small change can support the current and future health of all family members, and as families are healthier positive peace and justice is supported within the larger community.
Family Matters Course: This family wellness education course was created over a 5-year period. It is grounded in family systems and attachment theories and designed to be used with persons in prison. The course focuses on family as a system with unique history, culture, roles, rules, strengths, and challenges. The course teaches participants how to manage conflict, learn to act rather than react when provoked, resolve old hurts and wounds and through forgiveness bring positive peace into their relationships; particularly relationships with their children. During the course participants are asked to focus on improving one or two family relationships using experiential exercises, role plays, letter writing, and telephone calls.
The course was conducted (1/25/12 - 12/20/12) and evaluated on six classes, 4 in a men’s prison (N = 47) and 2 in a women’s prison (N = 26) during 2013. Each class met weekly for 3 months. Participants reported a better understanding of themselves and their families at the end of the course as well as increases in self competence and self esteem. Many reported improvement in important relationships, particularly relationships with children. Family healing work affects multiple relationships, and increases the possibility of healthy and productive life choices for all family members. Fairness, equality, justice, and peace are all key values found in successful families.
Karen Crozier is a concerned and committed Christian scholar-activist and minister to the well-being of Black people in the African diaspora in particular and all of humanity in general. Presently, she is an assistant professor in practical theology at Fresno Pacific University (FPU) in which she teaches courses in three different schools: Humanities, Religion, and Social Sciences (HRSS), Business, and Seminary. In addition, she serves as special assistant to the provost for peace and justice initiatives. During her first two years at FPU, she served as special assistant to the provost for spiritual engagement and diversity and the community justice conferencing public education coordinator in the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) in the Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies (CPACS). Her current research focuses on how African American nonviolent practices and visions have contributed to the redemption or transformation of racism and other isms in the U.S.
Affirmative Action and The New Jim Crow: A Pathway to Compassionate, Racial Justice
Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010) has raised awareness on a new form of racism and racial injustice within and beyond the criminal justice system. She unequivocally asserts that Ronald Reagan’s fabricated war on drugs in the 1980s has blossomed into the well-disguised, comprehensive and intentional system called “The New Jim Crow.” This 21st century manifestation of racialized control legalizes discrimination against non-violent drug offenders by denying them their rights to vote, jury duty, federally subsidized housing, gainful employment, and federally funded financial aid for education. According to Alexander, “The New Jim Crow” disproportionately impacts African American and Latino males and relegates them to an invisible racial caste.
As a legal scholar, law professor, and racial justice advocate, Alexander calls for a multicultural grassroots movement through an ethic of care and compassion in order to transform the racial violence and injustice being inflicted on African American communities and other nonwhite communities in light of the manufactured war on drugs. In her solution, she lights a path for affirmative action that reconnects the racial justice professional to the people by invoking Rev. Dr. King’s human rights commitment and vision to radically restructure society that emerged during the final year of his life.
In this paper, I provide an auto-ethnographic narrative account of a pathway to compassionate, racial justice, inspired by Alexander’s analysis, within and beyond my academic institution. Since June 2010, I have been engaged in movement building in response to the war on drugs as articulated by Alexander through teaching in “freedom schools,” preaching in religious institutions, lecturing in academic, civic, and political organizations, and facilitating peacemaking circles in the academy, juvenile justice system, and church. As a racial justice professional who is not a lawyer, but nonetheless committed to law and justice as a Christian academic and cleric, I expound on the meaning of affirmative action not as diversity, a place at the table, or equity, power at the table, but as a process that identifies and transforms historical and contemporary conflict and violent structures based on racial power and privilege towards experiencing King’s beloved community, or Jesus’ kingdom of God on earth. In addition, the psycho-institutional, psych-social, psycho-political, and psycho-spiritual dynamics will be discussed in my presentation of a compassionate, racial justice. The main thrust of this paper is to foreground my intrapsychic and interpersonal conflict and healing within institutional and social settings based on my experience in transforming social injustice and institutional racism.
Rosemary Soto has worked for the Monterey County Health Department, Behavioral Health Bureau as the Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) Coordinator for the Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63) since October 2007. Earlier as Program Director for the Women’s Crisis Center, she served victims of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and child abuse. Rosemary serves as liaison to the California Mental Health Services Authority for Statewide Prevention and Early Intervention Projects: Suicide Prevention, Stigma and Discrimination Reduction, Student Mental Health Initiative. She serves as Chair of the Community Engagement Committee with the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP). Rosemary represents the Monterey County Health Department as Past Chair on the Monterey County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (DVCC) and has served as a Domestic Violence Expert Witness for the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office. In 2012, she was nominated as a “Champion of Change” by the National Youth Forum on Youth Violence Prevention.
Violence at the Core of Community and Family Matters
Exposure to violence whether in the home, in the school yard or in their neighborhoods are exposed to a trauma that scars the soul and rattles a community to its core. Untreated trauma leads to hopelessness and an attempt to cope using unhealthy and self-medicating methods with the sole intent to survive. Exposure to trauma, abuse and violence has long term effects of internalizing and externalizing behaviors. While violence is rampant in America, in small communities throughout Monterey County crime and violence statistics show remarkable connections between poverty, social and racial injustices, and lack of opportunity. A young man or woman of color with limited access to mental health services, poor academic opportunities and no exposure to enrichment activities such as the arts is bound to resort to what is readily available in their immediate surroundings.
In 2010 and 2011, Monterey County was ranked number 1 in the state, having the highest rate of Homicide Victims ages 10-24 per capita. In 2012, Monterey County came in at third place. Local officials can attribute the decrease in the report, conducted by the Violence Policy Center, to ongoing efforts to address the issue. While efforts through collaboration are imperative violence continues to thrive in communities of color where academic needs, health and poverty go unattended. Violence stems from the heart of gang life as it is entangled with a drug trade that entraps youth with the enticement of a way out of poverty along with the promise of protection and a sense of family.
The need for protection and family ties comes from the lack of it within the family unit. Children and youth exposed to domestic violence who become adults without ever accessing mental health services are at a higher risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violence themselves. Communities where violence, gangs and crime become the norm are often communities where wounded and troubled youth are struggling to survive. Programs, policies and legislation have the potential to eradicate the problem by addressing the basic needs for a child’s success by implementing a shift in approach to healing and trauma informed practices. Current collaborative efforts in Monterey County are poised to take on such measured systemic changes, impacting educational, social services, health, and justice systems.