On April 17, about 50 residents of Encinal, Texas, drove across the railway tracks to the Veterans' Hall community center to debate whether the impoverished town should add a large, privately run U.S. Marshals Service prison to its meager list of possessions. Specifically, they discussed an environmental assessment commissioned by prison proponents to reassure locals that the prison wouldn't overwhelm the water and sewage systems, kill off the endangered wildlife and violate the peaceful, starry nights.
Last summer, some 600 inmates in the notorious
supermaximum-security unit at California's Pelican Bay State Prison stopped
eating. They were protesting the conditions in which the state says it must hold
its most difficult prisoners: locked up for 23 hours out of every 24 in a barren
concrete cell measuring 7 1/2 by 11 feet. One wall of these cells is perforated
steel; inmates can squint out through the holes, but there's nothing to see
outside either. In Pelican Bay's supermax unit, as in most supermax prisons
around the country, the cells are arranged in lines radiating out like spokes
from a control hub, so that no prisoner can see another human being--except for
Crime is down across America. The nation's crime rate has been dropping for the best part of a decade now, and everyone is keen to take the credit. New York's Mayor Rudy Giuliani claims that zero-tolerance policing is responsible; former California Governor Pete Wilson credits three-strikes-and-you're-out laws; President Bill Clinton says gun control and federal funding for prison construction and new police officers have done their part.