By Timothy Lewis
People from all backgrounds have videotaped the narrative of police brutality, but what is often overlooked is the mistreatment of detainees in the criminal justice system.
The NAACP’s Riverside Chapter recently hosted a City Hall to reform the prison in collaboration with the Riverside Justice Table and other activist organizations. The public and recently detainees were invited to speak openly about their experiences in prison and what they felt needs to be done within the criminal justice system with regard to prison reform.
The speakers were men and women from all walks of life. Their collective stories illustrated a picture of a complex and exploitative system that has affected countless incarcerated and incarcerated people.
Panelist Diane Cardea said her time in prison made her feel “humiliated as a person.” It made her change her life, what she’s doing now. Cardea returns to school and moves to remove her charges from her file. She said that “people should know that even though you are in prison, you are still human.”
Terrance Stewart, Community Engagement Manager and founding member of the chapter Riverside All of Us or None, opened the audience about the industrial complex system of the prison, which he described as the new form of slavery. He then shared his own experiences in prison.
A study by Freedom United showed that the United States’ public and private prison and immigrant detention industries have long benefited from exploitative and profitable forced labor programs. Initiatives such as the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) incentivize government-owned private companies to lower their wages by 80% – meaning prisoners work almost free.
Because of the economic gain, prisons and detention centers have a high capacity of inmates and detainees.
Toya Vicks spoke briefly about her time on forced labor programs in prison, from 5 cents an hour in the “yard” to $ 100 a month in the laundry room, cleaning the dirty clothes of her fellow inmates. Getting into such a position was an uphill battle that was once “liberating,” she said.
“Even though I wasn’t paid, they still took me for child support,” Vicks said. “I worked very hard to get to this point, but I got there. It was an incredible feeling to be able to send something to my children. “
Stewart spoke briefly about the long-term effects he still faces today despite being a free, rehabilitated, and functioning member of society. Some of the obstacles he listed were finding housing and work opportunities and family reunification.
A study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime shows that the life of former inmates outside of prison is often difficult, as convicts have little or no job prospects. Many face socio-economic exclusion, which begins the cycle of poverty and recurrent crime.
Stewart noted how much the consequences of past actions can haunt a person and their loved ones in the long run. He said this was one of the main reasons he campaigned for prison reform.
A common theme in the stories of many speakers was how inhuman and degrading the conditions of treatment and living behind bars were. All recently incarcerated people also stressed that they are still people – parents, children, and siblings – who deserve proper treatment despite their flaws in life.
Prisoners are also exposed to unsanitary conditions. Overcrowding has turned prisons into vectors of disease and disease, with most inmates eventually being released back into the public eye, affecting the surrounding community.
Many members of the panel continued to work to rebuild their lives for years after serving their sentences. Despite setbacks and challenges, these people have come together to help themselves and the community in which they live.
Panelist Michael Griggs, who has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, believes that it is the duty of those with firsthand experience in unjust prison systems to speak up and mobilize others to change an outdated and discriminatory system .
“Those closest to the problem are also the ones closest to the solution,” Griggs said.
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