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Criminal justice professionals take part in mass incarceration panel

Caroline Japal

Caroline Japal

The Mental Health Crisis in Jail: A presentation and panel discussion will take place Tuesday, April 25 from 12:15-1:15 p.m. in the Willard Auditorium of the DCH Regional Medical Center.

Jordan LaPorta

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To address mass incarceration in the United States, six criminal justice professionals participated in a Q&A discussion titled “Mass Incarceration in Modern America: Where Do We Go From Here?” on a panel at the University Wednesday night.

Moderator, assistant professor Adam Ghazi-Tehrani, opened the Q&A up with a question about the importance of getting the public to care about prisoners’ health. Unit Manager Angela Gentry worked with a federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama, and said there is a responsibility as an agency for not just housing inmates, but also for their healthcare.

“We have an obligation to those inmates to provide the same thing for them, so sometimes that does not go over well with the community, but it is part of our responsibility,” she said. “We have to do whatever we can for them when they initially arrive and for all of the time that they are in our custody.”

Jennifer Kenney, assistant professor in the University’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said inmates deserve the same health and rights that non-criminals have.

“Individuals who have made bad decisions and been sentenced for those crimes, they still deserve the basic human rights that every single person in this country deserves,” she said.

The moderator also asked about what mental health programs are available to inmates.

Reentry Coordinator Engret Jenkins, who works at a federal correctional institution, said contrary to popular belief, they do provide mental health programs for the inmate population including programs such as drug abuse and goal setting.

Angela Gentry said they have licensed clinicians, social workers, medical doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists available for those inmates, and once they are out of the prison’s supervision, the prison works with probation to continue the efforts on reentry.

“We want to make sure that once they leave our doors, we are there for them to make their reentry back into society successful,” she said.

When a student compared mass incarceration in America to being a continuation of modern-day institutionalized slavery, the panelists had several different answers. Jennifer Kenney spoke up about how incarceration is inevitable, but there tends to be a racial imbalance in those incarcerated.

“We are five percent of the world’s population, and we incarcerate 25 percent of the offenders; I don’t think anyone thinks that that is a good idea, but I don’t think it is institutionalized slavery,” she said. “I do think it is institutionalized racism, which is something that is very serious.”

Montgomery Warden Dennis Stamper said when he first started working in the Bureau of Prisons in 1987, there were 43 federal prisons in the country compared to today where America has 122 federal prisons. Stamper has worked at every level of the agency ranging from medical centers to working at the Supermax in Florence, Colorado.

“Are there people who could benefit from other ways of criminal justice like reform,” he said. “Absolutely, truthfully, there are plenty of men I have seen in there that I’d be happy if they were my next door neighbors, and there are some I would never want to know where I live.”

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Criminal justice professionals take part in mass incarceration panel