Life science in prison

Nalini Nadkarni challenges our perspective on trees and prisons — she says both can be more dynamic than we think. Through a partnership with the state of Washington, she brings science classes and conservation programs to inmates, with unexpected results.

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3 thoughts on “Life science in prison

  1. Generations ago, Pentonville Prison in London pioneered what became SuperMax treatment. Prisoners were made to spend 23 hours a day quietly, alone in their cells, unable to communicate with anyone. One hour a day they got exercise. The program started with a prison full of convicts and ended up with a prison full of mental patients, and nobody had the means to treat them.

    As a thought experiment, imaging repeating the experiment with dogs. One hour a day of silent solo exercise, and twenty-three hours a day of forced solitude. By the end of three years all of the dogs would be have severe mental problems and many would have severe physical problems, and some would have died. And you know if you got caught doing this, you would spend years in prison for cruelty to animals.

    We all know that our penal system has only one answer to every question, and that is violence, whether it is torture, torment, battery, or the threat of death. We need to turn to evidence-based policies, not the cruel imaginings of the sadists in charge.

  2. RCG –

    It is also important to recognize that the very reason that a lot of prisoners end up in SuperMax, is because they are mentally ill already. Ever since deinstitutionalization of the menally ill from state hospitals really got rolling in the late sixties, early seventies, prisons have become one of the primary repositories for the severely mentally ill. The other primary “home” for people who suffer severe mental illness is homelessness. There are also group homes, but even many group home residents end up on the streets, because they wander off and get lost – after a few days without meds they often suffer the backlash of abrupt departure from their pharmaceutical regimen.

    This is a serious problem and with serious budget problems is getting even worse. What shit care has been available to the mentally ill in prisons is getting cut to shit with everything else. This means that people who may have been sentenced to as little as a year or two, are ending up in prison for insanely longer periods. I linked to a “Frontline” episode on my blog a while back (under the tag “Neurological Disorder”) that talks about prisoners spending more than five times their initial sentence behind bars, because of mental illness and the behavior that can accompany it – especially in a prison setting.

    But your underlying contention is quite correct. Placing a person who in not mentally ill, or at least not particularly seriously so in SuperMax is nothing short of psychological torture.

  3. I think one of the reasons rehabilitation is being defunded is because the US no longer has a corrections system so much as it has a prison industry. There are people who make money when other people go to prison, so they lobby the government to get more people into prison, and for longer stints.

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