Sep 06 2010

The Impact Incarceration Program: Photographer Julia Rendleman Documents Boot Camp in Illinois

(h/t Lois Aherns The Real Costs of Prisons)

Photographer: Julia Marie Rendleman
Project Title: “The Impact Incarceration Program”

The Impact Incarceration Program at the Dixon Springs Boot Camp in Southern Illinois is a 120-day program where inmates participate in a military-like boot camp instead of serving their judge-mandated sentence, usually between three and seven years. While the facility primarily houses male inmates, there are currently 22 female inmates.

“I think the program can be a real benefit to the women because there are so few of them – they get very personalized attention,” said Officer Teresa Robinson.

The graduation rate for the female inmates is over 95% and the recidivism rate for three years with no new felony convictions is 23.3%, compared to 32.9% at a traditional correctional facility.

This project considers the development of five women as they go through the boot camp program at Dixon Springs. All five women are first-time offenders with sentences under seven years. Forty-five days into the project, one inmate, Catherine Thomas, “quit”, or was kicked out of the program for slapping another female inmate. She will return to Dwight Correctional Facility to serve her full sentence of four years.

“She (Thomas) wasn’t taking it seriously,” said inmate Robin Johnson. “That means you not taking your life serious, and everything’s not a joke.”

Of the remaining four women, three are at Dixon Springs for aggravated assault. These women, in only six weeks, express a gratitude for the program that is hard to explain since the majority of their day is spent doing hard labor under rigorous scrutiny.

“You get more out of this than you ever would at prison. Prison, compared to this is the Hotel Paradise,” said inmate Courtney Andrews.

The final inmate this project follows is 29-year old Marita Sanders, who has a four-year college degree and was incarcerated for embezzling $70,000 from her accounting firm in Chicago. Unlike the other three women, Sanders is, admittedly, not focused on changing but wants to get in and get out in 120 days.

click here to see a slide show of her moving and infuriating photographs.

Jul 23 2010

I am really against boot camp…

Catalyst Chicago recently published an article about one young black man’s experience at the boot camp at Cook County Jail. Who even knew that Cook County Jail had a “boot camp?”  I didn’t.  Cook County jail has actually recently been in the news as one of  the top three mental health institutions in America.

Anyway, journalist Sarah Karp writes in her article:

This reality is vividly apparent at the boot camp, a one-year program that consists of 18 weeks of intensive military training and 8 months of supervision after release. Men between the ages of 17 and 35 are eligible to be sentenced to the camp for their first or second non-violent offense. Yet the average age of inmates is 22.

On weekday mornings, the inmates start the day by walking in unison around the concrete yard. A few men appear to be in their late 20s or 30s. But for the most part, the group is made up of baby-faced black and Latino men who look barely outside of their teens.

High school is still a recent memory for many of the inmates, including Kenny. But only about a third of the young men have earned a high school diploma. Between 12 and 16 percent read below a 6th-grade level, and so are placed in a remedial literacy class. For these young men, officials admit, the prospect of earning a GED is dim.

There are so many issues to highlight from this excerpt.  First of all, it underscores the connections between the military and prison culture.  The idea of strict rules, unquestioned obedience to authority, and discipline are mirrored in the military and in the prison.  Interestingly, I would imagine that many of the young men who are in boot camp have cousins and friends who grew up in their neighborhoods and had to enlist in order to have  employment prospects.  The message seems to be that one way or the other if you are young, male, black, brown and poor, you are going to end up in the military or in prison.  Your choice? Next, once again, we see the connections between a lack of adequate education and incarceration.

Finally, many of the young people who are sentenced to boot camp would be better served in substance abuse treatment since the majority are there for non-violent drug offenses.  It is obscene to relegate young first time offenders to military style boot camps as a form of punishment.