Prison reform assembly


Maya Morris/Sagamore staff

Senior Gabe Sultan speaks to the audience about what life is like after former felons are released from prison. According to Sultan, it can be difficult to find housing and employment.

Valentina Rojas, Arts Writing Editor

Social Justice students organized and held an assembly regarding prison and prison reform systems during A and B-blocks on Wednesday, March 30.

Senior Gabe Sultan and juniors Peter Jones, Sara Hogenboom, Margaret Hanson and Anna Koenig (who ran the projector and sound system and helped organize)  discussed the school-to-prison pipeline, life in prison and life after prison. Afterwards, guest speaker and criminal defense attorney Jamie Sultan, Gabe Sultan’s father, spoke about why prison reforms need to be put in place: so people may move past their mistakes and integrate into society instead of forcing ex-convicts and felons to live on the fringes of society.

Hanson showed a short video about the school-to-prison pipeline, which refers to the policies and practices that push students into juvenile and criminal justice systems, and made connections between the disproportionate number of Black and Latino prisoners and the punishment of students of color in high schools. According to the video, in high schools with regular police supervision, charges of disorderly conduct are much higher. High schools with a population that is more than half Black are more likely to have police supervision. The video also explained that students of color are three times more likely to be expelled or suspended than White students. The video proposed a restorative justice system where students who misbehave talk with guidance counselors instead of being expelled.

Hogenboom spoke of life inside prisons, focusing especially on solitary confinement. She explained the mechanics surrounding solitary confinement and some consequences that are known to follow extended stays in solitary confinement such as hallucinations, hypertension, increase in anger and violence, hypersensitivity to noise and touch, higher rates of suicide and severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Hogenboom said that prominent figures in society such as President Barack Obama and Pope Francis support reforming the solitary confinement regulations.

Gabe Sultan explained what life was like for many felons after prison, explaining that over 75 percent of convicts reoffend, “creating a permanent cycle of government discrimination, voting restrictions and loss of federal assistance which creates a permanent underclass.” According to Sultan, the United States has the highest rate of recidivism, or going back to prison after being released, among first world countries because our prison systems are based on punishment and retribution instead of healing. He used sex offenders as an example. Regardless of whether they reoffend, they are followed by their offense for their entire lives because they are registered online as offenders, making it harder for them to find employment and housing.

Jamie Sultan explained how aspects of the prison system such as mandatory sentences inhibit the trial system because judges must sentence the defendant regardless of whether the sentence is merited or not. He also told the assembly that many of the students sitting in the auditorium may have participated in activities that are considered sex offenses which could follow them around for the rest of their life.

“For example,” Sultan said, “if you have a completely consensual sexual relationship with a fifteen year old, you can be registered as a sex offender. If you take naked pictures of yourself, that is considered a sex offense and you can be convicted.”

Since the population of former inmates is made up of mostly Black and Latino people, who cannot vote in many states and face housing and employment discrimination, the prison reform in many ways creates a “new Jim Crow,” according to Sultan.

At the end of the assembly, students got the opportunity to ask questions, and one was asked regarding the United Nation’s policy of considering a period of solitary confinement longer than 15 days as torture. The student questioned why the U.S. got away with leaving prisoners in solitary confinement for years. Hogenboom replied that no other countries want to confront the U.S. According to Hogenboom, this shows how few people want to stand up for convicts, as even the Supreme Court avoids all issues related to solitary confinement.

Throughout the presentation, the students used countries such as Norway as an example of a good prison system, as the country focuses on healing instead of punishment, and society is ready to welcome convicts back after they are released.