We have received an email from a reader, Rick, and are grateful he has agreed to allow us to publish it (please refer to the previous article):
‘Someone showed me the reports on the Incarceration Experiment, thanks to your reporters for publicizing what is going on. My girlfriend was planning to drive through that state on the way to visit relatives, but as she seems to think the speed limit is advice not a law and sometimes uses her cellphone or puts on make-up while driving, I’ve suggested to her that she takes an alternative route. If she gets caught and jailed, I don’t plan on taking on more work to keep her out of the ‘default’ conditions!
In our previous report, we visited prisons in three of the 22 new correction districts, headed by elected superintendents with broad powers to reshape the correctional system in their areas to their own design.
Now, after a court judgement, archw.com reporters have been able to visit Gray Mesa Correctional Facility, to which we were previously denied access.
Gray Mesa, and the superintendent responsible for it, Mason Boskovich, have been the focus of controversy that has attracted national and international attention. The facility gets most of its funding from payments by the prisoners themselves, and this has enabled Boskovich to continually lower taxes that fund the correctional system in his district. His ambition is for the prison to one day earn enough money to pay a rebate to residents. It has made Boskovich a popular figure in his area, but divisive beyond it. The regime he has introduced has provoked lawsuits, and even the criminal prosecution of some of his staff. But he remains unrepentant, and maintained his silence to the media, even if he was now forced to allow us to see inside his notorious prison.
Potential inmates are introduced to the regime they may have to live under when they are charged. “It’s Boskovich’s hard sell’, one attorney representing prisoners told me. “Whenever someone gets charged with any criminal offense that potentially carries a prison sentence, they get the book and the DVD, and it is designed to scare the life out of them. And it does a pretty good job of that.” The book and DVD inform the accused of what life would be like in Gray Mesa under the so-called ‘default option.’ “They’re told, if you don’t do anything, this is what life is going to be like for you. And it’s horrible.” But the point of this isn’t to prepare people for inevitable hardship, it’s to give them a big incentive to hand over lots of money. “After scaring them, Boskovich offers them an out, a way to a much less unpleasant life behind bars. At a price, of course.” At the end of the DVD and accompanying book are a bewildering list of possible packages and options available. There’s the ‘basic package’, the ‘bronze’, ‘silver’, ‘gold’ and ‘platinum’, each more expensive than the previous, and offering a less restricted and more comfortable sentence for the prisoner. As well as the packages, prisoners could also buy individual enhancements to improve their living conditions. “It’s all carefully designed to wring as much money out of the prisoners as possible. They make things deliberately awful for them to make them buy their way past some of the worst aspects. The problem is, not everyone can afford to do that, and it also incentivises the prison and its staff to give prisoners as hard a time as possible to get them to pay up even more. It’s a sick system.”
Another never finished production was an R-rated version of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat starring Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet fresh from their appearance in Titanic. The advertising campaign was all laid out: “The Titanic stars of the screen now appearing in a Titanic tale of terror by the Titan of Terror himself.” Unfortunately, an earthquake destroyed the sets and the production company could not raise enough to rebuild them and the film was never completed. Winslet acquired the only footage of the scene pictured here and destroyed it, feeling that her writhing was more erotic than horrifying.
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.