A Law Student's Attempt to Understand It All.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Supreme Court Sent Me To Prison

The Justice took us on an end-of-summer field trip to the Colorado Department of Corrections in Cañon City, Colorado. She wanted us to see where we send people when we deny their certiorari petition or affirm their conviction. Our work has real-world consequences. It is not just research and writing. The Justice wanted this trip to bring gravity to our work.

Before I describe my trip (which I will do tomorrow), I will share my general impressions.

First, every worker and guard had a deep passion for their work. While they recognize that they work with bad and dangerous people, they hold out hope that some may be reformed. They are not bleeding hearts who excuse bad behavior. Instead, they hope that they can change the fundamental nature of the offenders.

Second, the prison system runs on an excellent incentive program. Every prisoner has the responsibility of keeping their cell clean. Every prisoner, with the exception of those in SuperMax, must work. However, the system uses incentives of nicer and better paying jobs for those who 1) behave, 2) do quality work, and 3) show a desire to work hard and do more. Education is available for everything from G.E.D.s to C.A.D.

Further, a prisoner may earn his way to lower security facilities with more privileges by good behavior. Thus, a well behaved murderer may be in a medium security facility making license plates, but a thug on a simple drug charge may serve time in the SuperMax. It is entirely up to the choices that the prisoner makes.

Third, Colorado Correctional Industries seems to do just about everything. They have prisoners who make furniture, prisoners who raise livestock, and even prisoners who are chefs. The prison system is thus using a vertically-integrated company. The benefit is that CCI is TABOR exempt but not taxpayer subsidized. However, every higher education institution must buy their office furniture from CCI, and this seems to be a bit of a racket. On the whole, though, the program is good. The prisoners get training. The state receives the benefit of many services and products. The taxpayers do not (directly) pay.

Tomorrow I will detail my trip.