Campaigners today presented a petition to the Governor complaining about a “perverse” and “inconsistent” approach to incarcerating offenders across the state. They are seeking to reverse changes which has created 22 correctional districts headed by an elected superintendent, which has led to dramatic divergences between the policies of different correctional facilities. “It’s ridiculous,” claimed one protestor at the State Capitol, “you have prisons in one district where the inmates are sat in the cells all day, they get fed this shit and just end up getting really fat. The district next to it, the superintendent is a health and fitness fanatic, he has any prisoner who is overweight doing non-stop exercise and basically starves them.” “There’s no consistent approach,” argued another campaigner, “how is the state supposed to have a unified approach to justice and corrections, when there’s 22 figures who are all seeking votes, and all have these different – crazy – ideas about how things should be run. It doesn’t make any sense.”
When we spoke to a spokesman from the Governor’s office, he defended the new system, praising the “innovation and experimentation it has brought to our corrections system.” He argued that “within a few years we will have data on what works and what doesn’t, but also it’s about the people of this state who work hard, pay the taxes that fund these prisons, they should have a say in where their taxes are going.”
Soon, citizens will have a more direct say in where their taxes go, as the funding for correctional facilities is transferred to each of the districts, and will be under the control of the elected superintendents. “From now on, the tax dollars funding correctional facilities will be raised in each district, and spent in that district. So, you may get one superintendent who gets elected promising to cut taxes, and fund the facilities less, and others raising taxes to increase spending, maybe with the promise that this will reduce crime levels. It will be up to voters.” Many of the superintendents are already preparing for the time when they have direct control over how they raise their budgets, and redesigning their prisons to suit their visions. Archw.com reporters visited two women’s prisons to see some of the different approaches for ourselves.
No sooner had Marie shut her eyes than she was woken up, by a guard loudly declaring that it was “time to get up,” in a tone both authoritative and routine. She had been asleep for hours, but it didn’t feel like that to her; it had been too short, and too uncomfortable for her to really feel that it had been a proper night’s sleep. She groggily lifted her head and then tried to lift her body. Her tiredness, and the restraints she was in, prevented her from doing this. After trying a few more times she realized that she needed to get leverage by swivelling round and putting her feet on the cell floor, so she did this, and at the second attempt had hauled her upper body upright. She dreaded to think what she looked like. She felt exhausted, and knew her hair was a mess. But with her hands cuffed behind her back, there was not much she could do about it. Having got herself upright, it took two tries to get off the bed.
She asked the guard if she could pee before being put back in the pod, and received an abrupt response: “Quickly. If you’re not done in two minutes, I’ll take you out of there. If you’re still pissing, I’ll put you on a disciplinary.” While pleased at being able to relieve herself before going back in the pod, she panicked at having to pee against the clock, with the guard watching, and seemingly so hostile. “I guess you’re not a morning person,” she thought to herself. Marie was able to finish on the toilet before the guard came to yank her out, but she was unable to properly wipe herself. For the first time, she was grateful that her pubic hair had been shaved, even if the area still smarted when touched by the sharp pangs of urine. She walked to the front of the cell, and the door was opened by the rude guard, who grabbed her arm, marched her to the pod, opened the door, and motioned her inside. As she stepped in, she mouthed “Hi” to the red-head in the neighboring pod, and she replied by waving to Marie with one of her cuffed hands.
As he presents his ID badge at the secure entrance, Matthew Wilkerson looks just like a junior executive starting his workday at a corporate office. But he is actually one of the new breed of judges specifically trained to work within the new judicial system instigated by the conservative President and Congress that came to power in 2020. The 32-year old is told by older judges that even though he might not have the same pay or scope for decision-making as the traditional judges (who are being phased out as they retire), but the other aspects of the job are much more pleasant.
As he enters the building each day, he enters a well-designed modern building with all the latest technological advancements to help his work. “And because a judge got murdered when the new criminal justice laws were being passed, in the courtroom itself we are behind one-way mirrors – we can see the rest of the court, but they can’t see us.” That, combined with voice alteration technology, which transforms a judge’s voice in his office behind the screen into a neutral undistinguishable voice in the courtroom, ensures that no-one in the court knows exactly who the judge is. “As well as making it safer for judges, it means that experienced attorneys who know the quirks of individual judges don’t get an unfair advantage.”
The new model of criminal justice also has other advantages. “In the past, judges usually had to deal with people who were constantly in trouble, people who didn’t really care too much what a judge said. But now, I have plenty of defendants in front of me who are normal people, who are very concerned by the trouble they are in. So there is much more chance that the words we say to them, and the sentence we pass, can really make a difference and make sure they don’t break the law in future.” The reason for the change in the composition of the defendants is because of the new zero tolerance approach to criminal justice. Wilkerson explains that “Violent crime was in historic decline, but I think a lot of people were still not happy. According to the crime statistics, people were safer than ever, but they didn’t feel that way. That’s why a zero tolerance crime platform did so well in 2020, I think, and that’s why we now have a very different, a much stricter, attitude towards what used to be thought of as anti-social behavior or misdemeanours.”
Continue reading Story – Judge Matthew Wilkerson
It took several seconds for Marie’s eyes to adjust to the relative darkness of the corridor, after being in the sterile brightness of the intake room. What confronted her was another line of women, like her all attached by their left ankles to a metal bar running low along the wall. At the end of the corridor was a shuttered door, and she could see this opening and shutting every 10-15 seconds. Gradually she shuffled forwards with the other women, and got close to the shutters more quickly than she had imagined she would. She soon realized that the shuttered door separated the corridor from an elevator, which only had room for one woman. The women about to enter the elevator had their wristband scanned, and were then almost pushed in by the guard, who clearly wanted them to move quicker.
Earlier in the evening, Marie would have been shocked at these women – at herself – being treated like items on a production line, but she was getting used to the mechanical process she was being pushed through. When she arrived at the front, her wristband was scanned, and shortly afterwards the shutter door opened. As she was being forced into the elevator, she saw that a bolt had shot out from the metal bar in the corridor to a metal bar in the elevator, making the transfer of her ankle cuff seamless. As soon as she was fully in the elevator, the bolt shot back, the shutters closed, and the container and its cargo shot up five levels.
As the door to the ‘INMATE INTAKE’ room swung open, Marie was confronted with the overpowering smell of disinfectant. The room was like a clinic, the walls, floor, all surfaces white and wipe-clean. Like the reception area, there were cameras in all corners, facing all parts of the room. There were two members of staff, one man and one woman, both wearing face masks. The woman was just removing a pair of disposable latex gloves, pulling the left glove up from the wrist, wrapping it in the right-hand glove, which she swiftly turned inside out, then pressed the pedal on the trashcan and tossed the glove bundle inside. She then grabbed two new gloves, and quickly put them on.
The male guard, arms crossed, told Marie to walk into the middle of the cell and place her feet inside a square marked out on the floor and place her hands on her head. He then stepped over and scanned the barcode on her wristband, bringing up her details on a computer screen on a side wall. He then began to curtly instruct her. “OK ma’am, without removing your hands from your head, remove your shoes.” Using her other foot, she prized each heel off. The male guard then walked over, picked up the shoes, closely inspected them, and then placed them into a plastic zip-bag, which he sealed and placed into a box. “Now take your right hand, and unbutton your top starting from the top button and working your way to the bottom.”
Uneasily, she began to lower her right arm, but before her arm was below her shoulder, she uttered “excuse me, but should you be doing this, you know, as a guy?”. The response was quick and uncompromising. “Ma’am, I am not permitted to search you. I am permitted to be in the room, and to issue instructions. Unless you follow my instructions immediately and completely, you will have your clothes removed, and your disobedience will be put on file. Do I make myself clear.” Knowing that she had little choice, she meekly replied “Yes”, and continued lowering her right arm. She unbuttoned her shirt, eventually leaving it hanging open.
Her face always went bright red when she was flustered, and as she sat trying to reason with the impassive bureaucrat in front of her, 31-year old Marie Capps was getting increasingly apprehensive. “But I was two days late. I had to wait until I got paid, that month I was short because the washing machine broke. I paid the insurance, it was fine!” She was sat in one of the offices of the city Civil Enforcement Department, the CED. She hadn’t heard of the CED until she received one of their enforcement letters through the mail, and it had taken her some time to find the buildings, which were located in a light industrial park on the edge of town.
She was charged with driving without insurance. She was aware that her conversation with the official was being recorded, but naively disregarded it. She thought that if she explained the circumstances, the official would let her off this once. But she didn’t know what the officials at the CED were like. The official’s continuing silence encouraged Marie to keep talking: “As soon as I got paid, I drove straight home and renewed my insurance.”
This went on for about 5 minutes, before the official decided to start talking. “Miss Capps, we are aware of the the facts of your case. Your insurance was expired for 2 days. You yourself admit this. You drove without insurance. Again, you admit this. It has all been recorded. You were informed on the letter we sent you that this was an official appointment, and that you were allowed to bring legal representation.”