Your View 7/15: Prison has changed
I am currently employed in a Missouri correctional facility and prior to that, worked in another state penal system. In my experience, the felony population receives more and better protection under the law than do their victims. It is easy to read letters from incarcerated felons and feel sorry for the individuals who wrote them. However, before being too sympathetic to their cause, the public needs to be aware of the true situation of an incarcerated individual.
Unlike the general population, a convicted felon receives free medical, dental, mental health and optometry services. Any medication, surgery or rehab prescribed are provided by the institution. These services are provided by tax monies. In addition, for good behavior, these individuals are given access to education, inside and outside recreational activities, television, newspapers and recreational reading materials. A law library containing resource material is available to those who are considering filing an appeal or a lawsuit.
They are encouraged to practice the religion of their choice and many different types of services are provided by the resident chaplain and volunteers.
Although many complain about the food they are served, they do in fact receive three nutritionally balanced meals a day, with alternates available for any diet restrictions or food allergies they may have. Those who require additional foodstuffs due to help problems are provided with these as needed.
For those individuals with an alcohol or drug dependency problem, several groups such as AA and NA meet regularly in the institution. Attendance is not mandatory but is encouraged.
Many of the incarcerated individuals have complained about being "locked up" and separated from the general prison population; this occurs for several reasons solely caused by the inmate. Upon arrival at a correctional facility, each new offender is given a rule book and these are discussed with them by their case worker. They can be placed in lock-up for a specified period of time for disobeying these rules. Some are placed in lock-up because of serious behavior problems such as fighting, attacking staff, attempted escape, etc. Although they are in special lock-up units and not allowed to mix with the general population or each other, they are still provided all of the above named health services and meals. With the assistance of an inmate law library worker, they are still able to do legal research and file any appeal or suit.
In addition, all incarcerated individuals can file grievances or internal complaints about any department and by law must be provided with a resolution to their complaint by the supervisor of that department. If they do not agree with this resolution, they can send the complaint up to the chain of command. If internal Department of Corrections resolution is not reached to the offender's satisfaction, they have the right to file in open, public court and be represented by an attorney if desired.
In most states, the Hollywood version of prison is no longer in existence. Incarcerated individuals have had their day in court and have been convicted of a crime. Their rights are protected by law both in court and in correctional facilities.
Felecia Berky, Bertrand