Giving Compass' Take:
- Writing for The Marshall Project, Keri Blakinger exposes the abuse allegedly suffered by incarcerated people at 'shock' camps in New York.
- Why was the decision to close one of the last 'shock' camps framed as a money-saving measure by New York state leaders? How can we build systems that put people over profit?
- Learn about the negative effects of witnessing violence in prison.
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When she was arrested on drug charges in 2017, Ciera Saxby-Smith told herself she’d do anything to go home to her two kids.
A few days after she got to prison in upstate New York, a counselor told her that instead of finishing her whole five-year sentence, she could get out much sooner if she did a six-month treatment program called “shock.” It sounded like a good deal.
But the military-style program at the Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility felt more like abuse than treatment. Guards taunted prisoners, calling them “junkies” and bad mothers, according to Saxby-Smith and others who have spent time in the program. The guards made prisoners wear embarrassing signs and eat food off the floor. Sometimes prisoners spent hours moving log piles or cleaning sidewalks with toothbrushes. Once, Saxby-Smith said, a woman got caught passing a note, so guards made her whole dorm walk in circles holding mattresses on their heads for 10 hours until their scalps bled.
“They say shock breaks you down to build you up,” Saxby-Smith said recently. “But there was no build-up. It was a humiliating experience.”Over the past four years, I’ve spoken to more than two dozen people who spent time in New York’s shock prisons. They all shared similar stories to Saxby-Smith. Some said the program helped them lose weight or learn discipline, but most said they left feeling abused.
Shock incarceration took hold four decades ago as a way to “shock” people into a sober, law-abiding life through the discipline of a military regimen combined with confrontational drug counseling and intense daily workouts. But research does not support the idea that shock programs work better than regular prison, and studies show the combative style of counseling that these programs rely on is ineffective. Most states eventually backed away from the programs.
Now, one of the last two in New York — a small facility in the former Adirondack mining town of Moriah — is set to close next month.
State leaders framed the decision as a financial one, saying that closing Moriah will save money. Upstate officials have protested, worried that the loss of dozens of prison jobs could decimate the local economy.
A Department of Corrections spokesman defended the value of shock, saying the programs had saved the state more than $1.5 billion over 35 years by helping people spend less time in prison and providing a regimen of “rigorous physical activity, intensive regimentation, discipline, and drug rehabilitation.” Verbal and physical abuse, the spokesman said, is “not acceptable” and any allegations of misconduct “should be investigated by the facility.”
Read the full article about prison 'shock' camps by Keri Blakinger at The Marshall Project.