Prisons in Hong Kong are testing a variety of high-tech services that will allow correctional facilities to better track inmates, according to the South China Morning Post. The city's Commissioner of Correctional Services, Danny Woo Ying-min, claimed the new services will be used to monitor for abnormal behavior among the incarcerated, prevent self-harm, and operate the prisons more efficiently. The "smart prison" initiative includes strapping inmates with fitness tracker-style wristbands that monitor location and activity, including heart rate. Some facilities will also start to use video surveillance systems that can identify any unusual behavior, fights and attempts to inflict harm on one's self. Correctional Services is also testing robots that will be used to search for drugs in feces from inmates.
Six years ago, Robert Johnson, a captain with the South Carolina Department of Corrections, was getting ready for work when an armed gunman kicked down his door, shot him six times in the stomach and chest, and left him for dead. The gunman, the FBI later revealed, was a hit man hired by an inmate at the prison where Johnson worked who contracted with the would-be-killer using a cellphone smuggled inside prison walls. After multiple surgeries and years of recovery, Johnson survived. "The chaplain told my adult children I was going to die," Johnson said at a South Carolina state hearing Wednesday. "This one cellphone brought terror to my house."
On Sept. 5, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced a host of new restrictions on the way its inmates can interact with the outside world as part of what Corrections Secretary John Wetzel called an "all-hands-on-deck approach" to prison safety. Previously, approved organizations on the outside could mail books or other publications directly to inmates, subject to inspection and approval by corrections officials. Now, no such direct donations are permitted. Instead, the Department of Corrections says it's beginning a "transition to ebooks coupled with [a] bolstered DOC library system" in order to fight the flow of illegal drugs into facilities statewide. In addition to banning the direct shipment of books and publications to inmates, the DOC announced it will no longer process inmate mail at correctional facilities; instead, mail will go to a processing center, where it will be opened, scanned, and then emailed back to individual facilities to print and distribute.
The country's most famous inmate is free. O.J. Simpson's release highlights the challenges of leaving prison, saddled with multiple felony convictions. It's hard to re-enter society, but it might be easier for those returning citizens, like Simpson, whose NFL pension and luxury homes, along with the prospect of the new iPhone, await him, compared with the likely transition for those who will return to poverty. Chandra Bozelko (@aprisondiary) is a 2017 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim criminal justice reporting fellow and writes the award-winning blog Prison Diaries. I had a safe, warm, and free place to stay as long as I needed to.
New Mexico, US - Twenty-four kilometres south of Santa Fe, the now defunct Penitentiary of New Mexico, or "Old Main", sits in managed decay, its imposing exterior rising above the plains that stretch southeastwards from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which loom in the background of the state's capital city. It was here, on the early morning of February 2, 1980, that a group of inmates from an overcrowded dormitory overpowered guards during the nightly headcount, setting in motion one of the most brutal riots in the United States' prison history. "It was pure insanity," says retired criminal defence lawyer and former inmate Gary Nelson, describing to Al Jazeera the apocalyptic scene he witnessed as inmates - some high on prescription drugs and armed with assorted power tools - began a murderous rampage that would leave 33 fellow inmates dead in 36 hours. The riot would shock the nation and implicate the New Mexico Correctional Department (NMCD) in years of poor prison conditions, poor officer training, misuse or overuse of segregation, severe overcrowding and mistreatment of prisoners, according to the official Attorney General report on the riot. "We really dropped the ball on this one," says Trinidad Lucero, an officer with NMCD who spoke to Al Jazeera last summer from inside Old Main. While a portion of the prison was closed down after the riots, most of Old Main would remain open for another 18 years, a dark stain on the state's prison system.