Stevie’s take on Smithfield’s latest repressive policy, followed by two statements from SASS and the 9971 Study Groups
On May 15, 2019 | SCI-Smithfield implemented the “violence reduction strategy.” Much like the failed and derided sentencing enhancements that were supposed to reduce crime, the new strategy increases punishment for certain violent acts by prisoners. Note, officers’ violent behavior is not addressed. Prisoners will not only be sentenced to hole time, but lose phone, commissary and visiting privileges after their hole time is up. Sounds like collateral consequences of a conviction!
But here’s the real kicker. I’ll quote the policy for you:
Privilege restrictions can be applied to both the perpetrator of the prohibited violent act and the group that he associates with. If it is determined that the perpetrator of a prohibited violent act has a group affiliation and associates with individuals who have the potential to influence his behavior, then both the perpetrator and identified close associates could be subject to these privileges restrictions.
So now prisoners are responsible for monitoring and stopping the behavior of other prisoners. Isn’t that the officers’ job? Aren’t they being paid tens of thousands to do just that? Moreover, who determines group association? What is potential to influence? So if a Muslim gets in a fight, all of his Muslim brothers get punished? If a queer prisoner gets into a fight, all the queer prisoners who hang with him get punished?
This is a violation of due process. More important, it doesn’t bring produce a safer environment. How about real interpersonal, conflict resolution and mediation skills training? These have been proven to work. How about giving prisoners a chance to practice the skills they learn and not punishing them for being assertive.?
Below are two statements prepared by the SASS and 9971 study groups here at SCI-Smithfield.
We need your help to rescind this horrible policy. Please call 814-643-6520 and let Superintendent Jamey Luther know that enhancing punishments doesn’t produce safety. Healthy relationships do. Tell her to offer programming that builds relationship skills.
SASS’s Letter to Supt. Arthur
Fire will not extinguish fire. It will only add to the conflagration. Using harm to remedy harm is like using urine to wash a blood-stained rag. It only makes things worse. Our history and current situation teaches us this much.
When someone harms us, disrespects us, or does something we don’t like, we feel an urge to punish them. We want to hurt or diminish that person. We want that person to suffer. This is the punitive impulse that lies within us all. Each of us must learn to recognize and eradicate it because it can never produce safety. Treating fire with fire never does.
The new violence reduction strategy stems from the punitive impulse. It is derived from the idea that a person who does harm should be extraordinarily punished to prevent future harm. Moreover, this policy punishes those who associate with the perpetrator of harm. How will this achieve safety? It only validates the punitive impulse: when someone hurts or disrespects you, hurt or disrespect them more. Is this not the very thinking that got many of us locked up now? Is this not the mentality that leads to the very harm you claim you want to end?
All of must work to remove this impulse from our lives. We must change the ways we interact with others on an ongoing basis and change the harmful patterns in our daily lives. We must question the punitive impulses in our relationships and rethink the ways we deal with personal conflicts thereby reducing hands that occur here and in our communities. Fighting fire with fire leads to further destruction.
We must learn new ways of dealing with harm. We must learn to put the fires out, not add to them. This policy addresses harm by harming others, including those who have not behaved violently. We can do better. If we want a safer compound, then we have to eradicate the punitive impulses in all of us prisoners, staff and officers.
9971’s Letter to Supt. Arthur
Across the country, jurisdiction after jurisdiction, has learned that sentencing enhancements do nothing to stem crime or violence. They produce mass incarceration and devastated communities. Safety is not achieved through enhanced punishment. Likewise, enhancing sanctions for violent behavior and holding prisoners accountable for other prisoners’ behavior, actions they did not commit, won’t stem violence at SCI-Smithfield. Each person is responsible for his/her own behavior. Are we rewarded for other prisoners’ good behavior?
If you are really interested in reducing violence, then you should offer programming that teaches prisoners how to resolve their conflicts peacefully. Try offering courses on restorative or transformative justice, peace and healing circles and interpersonal skills development.
Moreover, give prisoners a chance to practice what they learn. Currently, if a prisoner behaves assertively, he is deemed disrespectful and punished. We sit in hours of programming and have no opportunities to practice. This is why the skills never take.
You were in attendance at the Day of Responsibility. We talked about being responsible for our own behavior and building safer communities through healthy relationships. What message are you sending now? Exactly how are prisoners supposed to control the behavior of other prisoners? If correctional officers, who are paid tens of thousands of dollars to do so, cannot, then how can we?
Everyone wants to live in safety. But this is not the way. We would feel safer if the men here knew how to handle conflict peacefully. We would feel safer if they possessed good interpersonal, conflict resolution and mediation skills. Taking away phones, commissary and exercise periods won’t achieve safety. It will only stress the men more, increasing the potential for violent encounters. This new violence reduction strategy is actually counterproductive. Please reconsider this policy.