Friday, August 31, 2012

Rhetoric in the Prison Writing Network

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Check out Christopher Hazlett, he is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Florida, studying Rhetoric and Composition in the English Department. His scholarly interests include writing studies, Critical Discourse Analysis, critical pedagogies, and writing that occurs in and around correctional institutions.

Christopher is writing his dissertation, which explores writing in prison as a complex network of written and circulated texts. This network includes writing by inmates and correctional staff, and allows certain conditions and actions unique to prison to occur; writing is the road upon which prisons create meanings, identities, and struggle. This dissertation examines the writing of inmates and correctional staff writing to explore how these two bodies of writing interact through social genre theory, public/counterpublic theories, theories of writing as resistance, and pedagogy in prison-based education. The goal of this dissertation is to explain the complexity of the prison writing network as a functioning, dynamic site of writing. By understanding writing in the marginalized social space of prison, we can also see how descriptions of the production and circulation in other complex settings do not fully explain the effects of writing.

His website linked here is focused on similar ideas as PCARE. His website highlights scholarships on prisons, different essays and editorials, prison journals and blogs, as well a page dedicated to prison conferences and organizations.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Growth Sector for Private Prison Companies

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"A new report by The Sentencing Project shows that people being detained for violating immigration laws are a major growth sector for for-profit prison companies. Budget crises and policy changes have led some states to reduce prison populations and private prison contracts in recent years. The losses for private prison companies have been more than offset by expansion of their management of federal detainees under the jurisdiction of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of detainees in for-profit facilities increased by about 3,300 people while the number of prisoners held in for-profit facilities decreased by only about 1,300."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

For the first time, Wisconsin now spends more on prisons than on the University of Wisconsin System

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As priorities shift, corrections funding passes UW System
  by Alison Bauter of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (8-16-12)

Madison - In 2011, Wisconsin state spending quietly hit a milestone: For the first time, the state budgeted more taxpayer dollars for prisons and correctional facilities than for the University of Wisconsin System.
For 2011-'13, Gov. Scott Walker and GOP lawmakers allotted just under $2.1 billion to the state's public universities and $2.25 billion to the Department of Corrections. It's a gap that is unlikely to close any time soon.
It's also not the work of a single budget and not the decision of a single party. Rather, the gap is the culmination of years of policy changes and shifting priorities, spanning Democratic and Republican governors, crisscrossing political lines and reflecting national trends, a Journal Sentinel analysis of more than 20 years of state budgets shows.
The UW System has long been among the top three recipients of state funds, alongside state aid to K-12 schools and local governments, and medical assistance programs such as Medicaid. In the 2011 biennial budget passed in June 2011, corrections surpassed UW, making the state's prisons and correctional system the No. 3 taxpayer priority.
These days, the growth in corrections spending has slowed; the department surpassed universities in the current budget not because of increasing correctional spending, but because of continued cuts to the UW System.
UW often takes the brunt of the state's cuts, if only because it can. Other big-spending programs - such as medical assistance for the low-income and K-12 education - rely more on state and federal dollars and are more affected by mandates from the federal government. These programs also cannot make up the cuts through increases in tuition, fundraising and fees available to universities.
What this means in the long-term is a continued decline in universities' state taxpayer revenue and a continued increase in reliance on other funding sources. For students and their families, that means bigger loans and more out-of-pocket spending.
Eventually, that becomes untenable, said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly.
"We're kind of coming up against a wall," Reilly said. "That trend can't continue if we're going to meet, as a people, our obligations to educate ourselves for the workforce."
As the UW System's place in the state funding hierarchy drops, Reilly warns that Wisconsin employers will soon need more workers with postsecondary education. Without realigning budget priorities and stabilizing tuition increases, Reilly said, the UW System cannot meet those needs.
"Elected officials . . . are going to have to make a decision on what's the priority of higher education," he said.

20-year trend

The trend is shared by many states. Nationwide, public universities are seeing cuts while prison spending, sparked by sentencing changes put in motion in the 1980s, has gone up.
In 1990, the Department of Corrections claimed barely a quarter of the funds apportioned to the UW System, receiving $178.6 million to the universities' $698.2 million. Even then, the state prison population was growing.
In the 1990s, Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson and the Legislature made moves to crack down on crime and instituted "truth in sentencing." In that decade, Wisconsin used its budget surplus to build additional prisons. Between 1990 and 2012, the amount spent on prisons grew by 620%, not accounting for inflation.
In 2003, Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, pledged to end Wisconsin's prison-building boom, but corrections spending didn't immediately slow. Late in his second term, Doyle's proposed early-release programs took effect, only to be repealed one year later.
Prison costs kept climbing throughout the decade, markedly slowing in the middle of the decade , but still topping $1 billion before Doyle was out of office - largely because prison spending is hard to cut once a facility is built and filled with inmates who must be guarded, fed and given medical attention.
"You have to pay prison guard salary and benefits; you can't do much in the way of laying them off, as it is a function of prison population," said Todd Berry, executive director for the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
In 1990, the prison population was just under 7,000. Now, it tops 22,000.
Today, state spending on corrections isn't rising. Recent cuts to prison workers' benefits and changes to rules governing overtime and sick leave - stemming from Walker's bill eliminating most union bargaining for most public workers - have held prison budgets largely static. But significantly cutting prison costs will be difficult without decreasing the prison population.
For comparison, UW System enrollment has grown about 10% over the past decade, topping 181,000 as the system receives an increasingly smaller portion of its funding from state taxpayers . UW's Board of Regents responded to this budget's cuts by increasing systemwide tuition by 5.5% - that meant an annual tuition hike of $422 at UW-Milwaukee and $681 at UW-Madison for the coming academic year.

Limited options

A straight comparison between corrections and the UW System is an incomplete picture at best. After all, higher education spending comprises the UW System and technical colleges, as well as the state-funded Higher Educational Aids Board.
Competition between the state's biggest budgets mean "everyone gets less," said state Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester).
Vos, co-chairman of the state's budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, said the budget's future is "hard to predict," but for him drastically cutting corrections is off the table, simply as a matter of safety.
Walker's press secretary, Cullen Werwie, said the governor supports other cost-saving options, such as incarceration alternatives that limit the number of juvenile offenders who go straight to correctional facilities.
Finance Committee co-chairwoman Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) suggests investing in vocational training that helps prisoners keep a job after being released, with the idea of reducing recidivism rates and, thus, long-term costs.
"We need to rethink correctional reform," Taylor said. "When it's eating up so much, there isn't anything left."
A recent study from Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute suggests that in six years, 64% of Wisconsin employers will need workers with at least some postsecondary education. To Reilly, it makes sound financial sense for the state to anticipate that need and reinvest in the university system.
Reilly said the universities are working to reduce costs by lowering administrative overhead and graduating students in four years or less. But, he said, increasing internal efficiency alone won't be enough.
"We've got a pretty good track record of stepping up," Reilly said. "The state needs to step up itself with some reinvestment."
As the 2013-'15 budget discussion begins, legislators say they'll explore options for the UW System, and many say that there will be bipartisan movement to address corrections costs.
But budget-watchers such as Berry caution that lawmakers must still tackle the high cost of Medicaid, a joint state-federal program providing health care to low-income, disabled and elderly individuals that annually runs state taxpayers more than $1 billion.
With Medicaid spending expected to keep growing, Berry said, it's unlikely that any new revenue the state generates will return to the UW System.