DON'T LET THOSE CATS OUT OF THE BAG


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"Pack up, tomorrow you are going to be moved to Tecumseh." These are the fateful words that over three-hundred inmates have heard in the last few months. Fateful because for many this is a life altering move.

WHO GOES, WHO STAYS, WHO REALLY CARES

Some of those being transferred were anxious to go. Any change of scene for a prisoner is often a welcome one. Meanwhile, for others there is no desire to go at all. This transfer which may be forcing them to leave family with an extra hour to drive for visits, and many leaving behind established positions in prison industries where their expertise was invaluable causes only tension for all involved.

STAFF CONCERNS

The transfer of so many inmates, who for the most part have adjusted well to prison life, has caused some staff to be concerned about the type of inmate who is now the majority of the population of the penitentiary. A population that staff will have to work with and control. A population that is now dominated by those having shorter sentences. Most having less then ten years left to serve before a mandatory release date will set them free. The average age of the typical inmates at NSP has also dramatically decreased, as older men are transferred along with their lengthy sentences and younger men are brought in to take their place. Nearly two hundred are returning from the recent closure of the minimum custody facility at Hastings. A move which in reality puts the Dept. of Corrections in a position of having to build additional bed space within a very short time.

THE CATS IN THE BAG

Sometime ago, during my seventeen-year stay at this "wonderful" place, I happened to be in front of the warden's desk. This person is no longer the warden but still works for the Dept. of Corrections in a very superior position. On the desk was a framed cartoon clipping taken from a newspaper. It featured a prison warden holding a bag filled with cats dressed in stripes and numbers as prison inmates. The warden was spinning the bag around. First one way and then back in the other direction, while leaving the bag open at the top. The spinning made the cats dizzy and unable to escape from the open bag. In one frame of the cartoon a bystander points out to the warden that if he keeps spinning the bag like that the cats would never be able to get out. The warden replied, "That's the whole idea".

PRISON MANAGEMENT

In essence that is one of the unwritten rules of prison management. Keep the prisoners spinning and off-balance so that they will never figure out how to get out of the prison bag, or be able to stay out once they do manage to escape.

This seems to be the idea behind who will stay and who will go to Tecumseh (TSCI). But there are a few exceptions. Some men with only a few months left to serve have already been transferred to TSCI as Minimum custody inmates. Ones that are supposed to work outside the fence as a sort of "trustee". Trouble is there really isn't anything for them to work on outside the fence.

NO REWARD FOR GOOD BEHAVIOUR

So the bag spins with inmates having no control over their lives or their living environment. Which in many cases are the same factors which contributed to them becoming prisoners in the first place. Would it make sense to you to move over a hundred prisoners from the Medium Security Unit (MSU) into the housing units behind the walls, only to move them all back again after just a few months? This is after many had purchased TVs and other things they could not have at the MSU Dorm. Again the bag is being spun, and there seems to be no logic behind the spins being perpetrated upon the lives of these men. Some feel that good behavior in prison, such as going many years without a single misconduct report, ought to be rewarded by at least allowing a prisoner to have a little say into where they are forced to live. But the administration does not see it that way. Instead they have been known to do such "sensible" things like moving one inmate to TSCI, and having to bring him back the very same day because there are no single man cells there and the Mental Health people fear that if the inmate neglects to take his medication one night, he may go-off and unknowingly injury anyone in the same cell with him.

BAD BEHAVIOR REWARDED

Why not send the so-called troublemakers to TSCI? You know, the ones who are constantly on restriction or in the hole for drug abuse or violence. Shouldn't logic dictate that those should be the people being transferred to the most expensive prison in the state? Many of this type of inmate are not being transferred because they are serving short sentences. So, at least to prisoners, it appears that their bad behavior is being rewarded, while behaving and conforming to the rules is being punished with either a transfer to TSCI or being forced to move from a two man cell, back to a dormitory with at least a hundred others in the same room.

SAME ATTITUDE FOR THE PUBLIC

This attitude carries over to the general public as evidenced by a recent Channel 7 television poll. A report which followed their story on fewer paroles being granted in Nebraska. That poll found that over 70% of the people who responded felt that prisoners should not be paroled on their first eligibility. That they ought to serve out their maximum sentence, regardless of any positive changes they had accomplished in their lives while in prison. Apparently the good people of Nebraska are so well off they can afford to keep building new prisons. Even when the better solution is at hand. Sen. Dwite Peterson has tried to convince the legislature many times that building more new prisons is not the answer. Instead create more community based corrections programs and parole people who are eligible for parole, instead of making them serve out their maximum sentence when they have a good institutional record.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

The Dept. of Corrections only spends 4% of its budget on programs to rehabilitate the prisoners. Things like drug counseling and mental health and higher education--Oh wait, the good Director of Corrections just spun the money away for all college classes. Way to go Harold, saving a little over a million dollars so the Dept can spend it on more vital things like replacing perfectly qood lights at the prison in Omaha. Or spend it eliminating a hundred bed spaces here at the penitentiary in order to make room for the staff offices of the soon to be closed Nebraska Corrections Treatment Center. Open one new facility and close two, now that makes sense! Would you think that indicated an overcrowded prison system? NCTC is being closed after only a few years of use. Once again fewer inmates will get the programs they need to get out of the prison bag and stay out when they do manage to escape, as 98% of them eventually will.

WHAT'S IT WORTH TO YOU?

Is it worth the price you will pay in additional taxes to keep men and women serving out their maximum sentences? Can you afford to keep building bigger and more expensive bags to keep them in? Then on the off-chance that one finds their way out, do you want them still dizzy from being spun this way and that? Only those of you with the power to vote can determine that it is time to stop spinning prisoners around.


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