By Eric "Phil" Phillips, Inmate at San Quentin
If I were designing a prison, I would eliminate double bunking in cells and double/triple bunking in dorms. Look at the San Quentin cells where I am housed. They are the smallest, if not one of the smallest cells in the California penal system at 4 x 9. They house 2 of us in these tiny cells with our property. Another issue with the double bunking is that sometimes we're forced to "cell up" with people we don't know. This leads to potential rapes, assaults, and murders.
A few years ago, the US Supreme Court ruled that California prisons must allow integrated housing meaning that whites, hispanics, blacks, and other races can cell together. With the entrenched racial gang politics in these California institutions, you cannot force people of different races or gangs to cell together. For example, if you move a white or Sureno inmate in a cell with a black inmate, it's a guaranteed fight as soon as they meet.
If I was designing a prison, I would allow a lot of rehabilitation programs like San Quentin offers. These programs not only change our mindset, focused on productivity and positive thinking, but they also raise our self esteem by bringing us back to humanity. Look at the difference between San Quentin and other institutions in California. There are a lot more incidents and lock downs at other institutions. If you dehumanize an individual, psychologically drill into his head that he's worthless and give him nothing positive or constructive to occupy himself, he'll just act out what he's been told. Do the opposite and you'll find people who care about their community. Patten University is an example of educational opportunity offered at San Quentin. I'd also return family visiting to lifers and reduce the affection restrictions on married relationships because relationships and connection with loved ones should be fostered not restricted. Human contact is normal and raises self esteem in an unnatural environment.
I would also change the sentencing structure with regards to lifer and three striker inmates. Although I would only be the warden of this prison (in theory), I would lobby the Governor and the legislature to change sentencing laws. For those with life sentences and "long termers" with a minimum parole date of 10 years, I would give them a chance after 7 years, an opportunity to go before the board with a chance for early parole. Now, in order to qualify one must have an exemplary disciplinary programming history, participate in education and rehab groups, and have an excellent psych report. So it won't be easy, but the hard work of rehabilitation will pay off for the participant, community, and public safety.
All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program with Quora is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. @thelastmilesq
More questions on prisons:
- What factors would you consider in whether an incarcerated individual is ready to be released into society?
- How can we improve the process through which inmates transition back into society as happy, productive citizens?
- Where is it worse to be imprisoned, in a state or a federal prison? And why?