Dee from the Desk: The Heroes Behind Bars - ABC6 - Providence, RI and New Bedford, MA News, Weather

Dee from the Desk: The Heroes Behind Bars

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People always seem to be fascinated with how the other half lives. Last week I got a unique opportunity to go behind the bars at the maximum facility at the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institute. There I saw what actually goes on in the prison and had a chance to recognize the work of people who keep it all running smoothly; the correctional officers.

The prison is organized as sort of a structured camp for adults and it is the correctional officer’s job to make sure that the structure remains in tact and the inmates as well as the staff stay safe.

The cells are extremely small containing a bed, a toilet, a small desk, and for most, a television. The TVs, small plasma screens, are purchased by individuals for their cells at the cost of $179. The inmates can also purchase other personal items and food for their cells through the commissary.  

The prison is set up in three rows of cells, one above another, and a narrow hallway. The second and third floor rows look down onto the bottom floor. The highest floor is about thirty from the ground. The only thing separating the rows from the edge is a short railing. The problem is that the railing is so low that it is easy for an inmate to jump off or possibly threaten to throw a correctional officer off. In fact, over the years the officers say they have had a few of these types of incidents.

Outside the cellblock, there is the cafeteria. The inmates cook all their own food based on a rotating menu that is designed by a nutritionist. On average, according to the correctional officers, the inmates are given about fifteen minutes to eat before they are rotated out of the cafeteria to make room for others. There are three meal times a day. In case of any sort of violence in the cafeteria there is an exact protocol to be followed where the cafeteria goes into lock down and depending on the severity of the situation gas can be used to force inmates out into the yard.

In the yard there is one correctional officer on the ground and another overlooking the yard. The correctional officer overlooking the yard is armed in case of any situations in the yard or attempted prison escapes. Also outside in the yard is the “community garden” where inmates grow herbs that they can use for cooking.

Inside the prison inmates have access to a gym with full weights and a basketball court. They also have access to an art room, a full law library, and classes to get a GED or an associate’s degree taught by CCRI. These classes come to inmates at a reduced rate of $20 a class. For someone on the outside a three credit course at CCRI would be just shy of $500.

The idea is if inmates get an education it may give them a second shot, a chance to reinvent themselves and change their life for the positive. The program aims to cut down on recidivism which is a common problem at the ACI.

Another problem is inmates who prefer to be inside the prison rather than in society. Some inmates get a little too comfortable in the prison and chose to reoffend. In prison life is structured and some of your freedom is restricted but you can always count on three square meals a day.

One of the more surprising aspects of prison life is the weddings. Yes, weddings. Inmates are permitted to get married while serving their sentences as long as they are not imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole. And apparently this happens. The inmate can only marry someone who is not incarcerated and the wedding must be conducted inside the prison. It’s probably not the typical “white wedding” but the officers say it does happen.

Another issue facing officers are inmates who become intimately involved. Sexual relations are not permitted within the walls of the ACI, there are no conjugal visits and inmates are not permitted to be intimate with each other, however, the rules do not always stop them.

The design of the classroom area and the limited number of correctional officers on duty make it difficult for the officers to be able to see all the happening in every area. So, this is typically where inmates might attempt to be intimate. The officers have to break up any conduct of this sort.

Officers also have to deal with inmates who attempt to sneak in drugs from the outside. The most common problem is suboxone which comes in a strip similar to a Listerine strip. Often these are concealed on envelopes or in literature. Suboxone is commonly used to treat people with addictions to opiods.

Perhaps the most chilling part of the tour is the segregation unit. There inmates, considered to be violent, are locked up in cells for 23 hours a day and are not permitted to have televisions or go to the cafeteria. Some people are sent to segregation for short periods of time, others can be sent there for years. One man is in the segregation unit until 2019 for chocking a correctional officer with hand cuffs.

It may seem alarming that the inmates threaten the officers but it is not all that uncommon. The inmates in the regular holding blocks are permitted to have toiletries including razors to shave. This is a threat to the correctional officers because sometimes inmates hide the razors and attempt to use them as weapons on other inmates or the officers. The officers need to always be on their tops and on guard to protect themselves from potentially violent inmates. While the officers know the risks their jobs entail they are often forgotten by the people in the outside world.

Most people never think of correctional officers has law enforcement officials. Usually the officers are forgotten because as prison correctional officers they are not in the public’s eye but everyday these guys are also putting themselves at risk in the name of public safety. They are largely outnumbered by inmates, many of which have violent tendencies and are incarcerated for serious crimes. It is these guys who continue the work of police officers and keep everything structured and orderly after a criminal is convicted. It’s a tough job that is necessary and unfortunately sometimes overlooked. These guys deserve a salute for maintaining public safety. They might work on the uglier side of law enforcement but it is a job that is an integral part of society.

Follow me on Twitter @Deedequattro

Dee DeQuattro is the assignment desk manager and digital news coordinator for ABC6. She studied politics and communications and holds a master's degree from Providence College. Follow her on twitter @deedequattro and log on to ABC6 .com for her latest in depth coverage of politics and news.

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