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Results of Our Poll for the Worst Prison Innovation of 2011: And the Loser Is...

David Shapiro,
ACLU National Prison Project
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January 11, 2012

In December, we asked you to pick among three candidates for the worst prison idea of 2011: denying prisoners lunch, charging families to visit prisoners or a pilot program in South Korea involving robotic correctional officers. You cast your votes, and the results are in!

Coming in at first place for worst prison idea of 2011, with 45% of your votes, is Gouging Families: A new law in Arizona allows the Department of Corrections to charge family members and other visitors who want to see prisoners a $25 fee. Visiting loved ones is hard enough without the new charge because, as the New York Times reports, family members “in many cases already shoulder the expense of traveling long distances to the remote areas where many prisons are located.” New fees just make it harder.

A close second, with 41% of the vote, is No Lunch: Texas has abolished lunch on weekends. On Saturdays and Sundays, inmates in 36 Texas prisons will receive one meal between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m., and a second meal between 4:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. — and no meal in between.

And in third place, it’s Robo-guards: South Korea is launching a test of robotic correctional officers. As the Los Angeles Times reports, these robo-guards (or should we say guard-bots?) are designed to act as “‘friendly robots’ that will not just guard prisoners but keep an eye on their well-being to boot.” And they may be used for matters that require something of a human touch — like detecting suicidal behavior. In fact, according to Time Magazine, the robots supposedly are “in touch with prisoners’ emotions, sensing aggressive or suicidal shifts.”

There was also a lot of good news in 2011 when it came to criminal justice reform, including a report of the first decline in the total prison population in nearly 40 years and a growing realization in many states that overincarceration is bad policy. Many of your comments in response to the poll called for continued change to ensure to a fair, just and safe criminal justice system, such as reducing overincarceration, creating humane prison conditions and putting an end to for-profit prisons.

In the words of commenters:

“We need real criminal justice and prison reform. The Supreme Court upheld the Constitution and California must reduce the number of prisons it packs in like feedlot cattle. Playing musical prisoners is not enough. Spending more on prisons than on education is just wrong. Measure the success of rehab and training programs for ex-offenders and support those that work. Start earlier for those that may be at risk of getting in trouble. That would save salvageable lives, reduce crime and save lots of our tax dollars.”


“ANY so-called innovation for prisoners that takes away rights and abuses the prisoners themselves is inherently bad. Just because they are in prison does not mean they should be mistreated! They are still human beings and have rights to be treated humanely in a dignified fashion, and if possible to be helped and rehabilitated.”


“The worst prison idea of the year has and continues to be privately run, for-profit prisons.”

We couldn’t agree more, and we will continue to fight for these reforms in the new year.

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