- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001

There has been a lot happening in our prisons lately. New Jersey is going to change the way prisoners in solitary confinement are treated. Living in solitary has been too easy, and as a result, prisoners commit additional infractions so they may remain confined. Solitary confinement includes cable television, credit for work without working and food delivered right to the door. If this is the kind of treatment the bad actors get, you have to wonder what the rest of the prison is like.

Inmates will no longer be able to enjoy radio and television, although a good deal of the fare found on television might be considered punishment. What if inmates were forced to watch Rosie or Geraldo? They would soon think twice before becoming repeat offenders. How television was allowed in solitary confinement the first place raises serious questions about the level of punishment given to hard-core prisoners. Giving work credit for keeping the cell clean is just as preposterous.

In Maryland, inmates went on strike by refusing to leave their cells to protest a smoking ban and prison conditions. The smoking ban was the result of some health-conscious felons bringing a lawsuit against the state. It appears a healthy prisoner isn't necessarily a good prisoner. The inmates are demanding better medical care, which seems to be at odds with their attitude toward the tobacco ban. They are also complaining about the food, as one might expect.

Prison officials are trying to work things out peacefully. What is amazing is inmates are being fed bag lunches in their cells. This is as ridiculous as the Teamsters going on strike and the trucking company responding by providing lunch to the picket line. Prisoners also want health inspections of bathrooms and common areas. I would certainly hope it is the prisoners themselves who are charged with cleaning these areas. They also demand job training. Could going on strike be considered the first step in job training?

In Indianapolis, a more progressive prison system is running a summer day camp where female prisoners can be united with their offspring. The Justice Department says that about 1.5 million children have a parent in prison. The purpose of the program is to prevent children from following their parents' path into prison. Visiting Mom for a couple of weeks each year in a camp situation is certainly a good idea. However, where does Dad come into the equation?

These children probably go through a great deal of mental anguish. To visit your mother for two weeks, behind razor wire, and then say goodbye until next summer seems a little traumatic. You have to wonder who benefits the most from such a program. One convicted murderer says it makes her feel like a human being. I hope the state is following up with the children to determine the effects of the program on the child. Prison is not what it used to be, which may be why we have so many.

Dick Boland is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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