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Articles by Jayson Hawkins

Artificial Intelligence for Surveillance Spreading to Prisons Around the Globe

Artificial Intelligence, long thought to be the wave of the future, has become a present reality in prisons around the globe. Facilities in Hong Kong and China have already established themselves on the cutting edge of “smart” incarceration.

The former has outfitted prisoners with wristbands similar to Fitbits that track location and other data, like heart rates. Other programs slated to begin soon include drug-detecting robots and surveillance systems tasked with flagging abnormal behavior. Yancheng prison in mainland China, meanwhile, has completed construction of its surveillance system that features hidden sensors and cameras in each cell. This data is uploaded daily to a computer that “generates a comprehensive report, including behavior analysis, on each prisoner using different AI functions such as facial identification and movement analysis.”

Tiandy Technologies, the company that created the Chinese system, has claimed its product will eliminate escapes, but it will do more than just monitor every move prisoners make. An inspection by party officials in December 2018 concluded that employees of the facility had not fully understood “its political nature in the new era.” It also determined that guards had violated rules, thus casting doubt on their personal ethics and political loyalty. ...

Opioid Epidemic Keeps Climbing at California Prisons, and Claiming Lives of Released Prisoners as Well

With opioid overdoses claiming the lives of over 68,000 Americans annually, detention facilities have reported a corresponding rise in drug-related deaths among those incarcerated or recently released. (See PLN, September 2019, p. 1.) California’s nearly three dozen penal institutions recorded 997 overdoses in 2018, more than double the number just three years earlier. Forty prisoners died from overdoses in California in 2017, a rate three times the average nationwide.

Although cancer, heart disease and liver disease remain the top killers of California prisoners, overdoses have outpaced suicides and homicides since 2017 to claim the fourth spot. Meanwhile, a November 21, 2019 story in Capital & Main said that “Drug overdoses are the single greatest factor contributing to Los Angeles’ rising rate of homeless mortality,” and that many of those dying on the streets were recently released prisoners. “Released prisoners may get clean behind bars…but the medications prescribed in jail detox programs aren’t normally the kind to adequately wean them from their opioid cravings,” the story said. “With the resultant loss of tolerance, if they relapse on the outside one erroneously judged dose can kill them.”

The numbers of prison deaths have risen despite increases in funds ...

Arizona Prison Water Woes Ease Up

The water at Douglas Prison, which has over 2,000 of Arizona’s prisoners, had a “noticeable petroleum odor and taste” and “was burning [prisoners’] skin after showers and causing diarrhea” in June 2019, Jimmy Jenkins of KJZZ-FM reported.

The problem arose after the facility switched to a different well following a leak that caused a water outage earlier in the month. That outage lasted several days, during which prisoners and staff survived on bottled water and used chemical toilets.

Toxic drinking water in major cities, and jails, like Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey, has made headlines in recent years and undermined trust in authorities who assured the public that no problems existed. For marginalized populations like prisoners, the slow reactions and outright denials of officials can extend crises for years and compound other issues.

Residents of the Wallace Pack Unit in Texas, the majority of whom are aged and have health problems, were told to drink up to two gallons of water a day to cope with excessive summer heat, yet a 2017 report revealed the water there contained over four times the level of arsenic allowed by the EPA. A federal judge responded to an emergency ...

Louisiana Sheriff Re-Elected Despite Prisoner Death Toll

by Jayson Hawkins 

Jail conditions are seldom equated to accommodations at a five-star hotel. Even so, there are lockups where the environment threatens a clear and ever-present danger to prisoners and staff alike. Such is the case at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison (EBRPP) a community jail that a ...

$525,000 Settlement in Minnesota Jail Excessive Force Incident

by Jayson Hawkins

"Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me.”

Terrell Isaiah Wilson, 24, could be heard pleading for his life on video footage shot on April 13, 2016 at the Ramsey County jail in St, Paul, Minnesota. After being arrested for the theft of two cell phones, Wilson ...

Survey: Jail Population Down but Incarceration Rates Higher for Whites, Women

by Jayson Hawkins

In April 2019 the U.S. Department of Justice released an analysis of its Annual Survey of Jails, which has tracked jail capacities, populations and demographics since 1982. The most recent year for which data was available, 2017, found the overall jail incarceration rate had dropped 12 percent from its peak in 2007, when 259 people were jailed for every 100,000 U.S. residents.

Despite a decline to 229 people in jail per 100,000 residents over the last decade, the United States still has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Breaking down the overall rate into demographic categories revealed some notable trends. While men were jailed at a rate 5.7 times higher than women, the rate for women has increased 10 percent since 2005.

Criminal justice reform legislation over the past few years has targeted racial disparities in the justice system. While it may be too soon to judge the impact of those reforms, the rate of blacks held in jail decreased 23 percent from 2005 to 2017. The rate for whites, on the other hand, jumped 12 percent during that same time period. The rate for Hispanics fell even faster than for blacks, dropping from 263 per ...

Rider Programs in Idaho Offer Prisoners a Second Chance

by Jayson Hawkins 

Overcrowded prison populations across the nation have forced states to seek alternatives to incarceration. One solution being used in Idaho is intensive rehabilitative programs called “riders” that can take the place of prison sentences. 

About one out of six Idaho prisoners are selected for rider ...