Prison Matters

Gail Braccidiferro sets forth grievances about the operation of our department’s correctional institutions in “Outside These Walls,” [October]. She summarizes her experience as one of being subjected to “mindless authoritarian behavior” and suggests that “protesting or asking to talk to a higher authority seems not only fruitless but dangerous. How can I be sure a complaint won’t result in harassment not for me but the person waiting inside?”

In fact, Ms. Braccidiferro’s husband raised issues with us numerous times while his brother was an inmate and our staff repeatedly answered his questions. No concerns ever came from the inmate himself. Many inmates ask questions and they are dealt with fairly and without prejudice.

An organization charged with ensuring the safety of the public and inmates must have rules that may seem strange or illogical to lay people. However, the policies work and the majority of our personnel perform exceptionally under very trying circumstances. When a few staff fail to do so, they are held responsible.
A.T. Wall
Rhode Island Department of Corrections

As I was reading Gail Braccidiferro’s article, I couldn’t help but think, she does realize this is a state prison, correct? She makes points about the strict rules and regulations regarding visitors, but I wonder if she would feel the same way if, God forbid, something should happen to her if the correctional officers did not take the time to enforce these rules. Until you’ve walked in their shoes, it’s not fair for her to judge the correctional officers.
Jennifer Saul

As a person who has volunteered at the Rhode Island prisons for several years, I was very interested in Gail Braccidiferro’s experience visiting her brother-in-law at the ACI. I have no doubt that the writer’s description is accurate. I would like to add a few more observations.

First, the rude, belittling treatment that some uniformed personnel direct at inmates’ visitors is simply not necessary, and it would not take a master of psychology or a stick of capital construction to correct the problem. All it takes is for guards to be instructed to treat visitors with courtesy, respect and simple kindness. A policy of kindly, respectful treatment of visitors should be required by top administrators and enforced down the line.

Guess what? When individual administrators set and enforce standards of good behavior by staff, the public gets good behavior (the reverse is also true). The proof is crystal clear when a visitor walks up to the front desk of each building. Note that the ACI has seven buildings that house inmates, five for men and two for women. Each building has its own warden or deputy warden, and each building has its own distinctive culture, tone and behaviors toward outsiders.

In my experience, officers at the front desk at Men’s Maximum greet me, a volunteer, with efficiency, good humor and kindness. When I walk into Moran Medium, I am steeled for a snarl, an attitude of suspicion, and a new, arbitrary, irrational rule that could send me back to the sidewalk. I am very sure that the face of the front desk at each building is a direct outcome of the standards set by the top boss of that building. If I and other visitors are treated kindly at the Men’s Max, MacDonald and Dix buildings, why not at Men’s Minimum and Moran? Why not?

If the prison indeed thinks of itself as a “correctional” institution that intends to send inmates out in better shape than they arrived, the prison would embrace as allies the family members and friends who visit prisoners. Every visit from a loving wife, brother or friend inoculates inmates against backsliding and failure, in prison and after release. The saddest prisoners I know are the ones that receive no visitors.
Mary l. Howe