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Photo credit: Everyday Health Photo of Hernandez (dressed in all black) at The Watcha! Film Series in honor of Women’s History Month.
The Rikers Island jail complex in September 2021. Photo Courtesy to: New York Times .   By Portland Tidwell SAN ANTONIO- Prisons are said to deter inmates from committing crime on the outside of the grey, dreary walls of their either temporary or long-term home depending on their sentences. However, living conditions are sometimes seen as less than up to par. The famous Riker’s Island in New York, which held many famous celebrities and criminals in the past, is shutting down their facilities in order to activate a new reformative plan that could cost up to $30 million. The plan is set to create safer, smaller and fairer jails.   Riker’s is one of the few prison complexes that have planned to invest in creating change and better conditions for roughly six to seven thousand inmates. The plan will include closing the complex and building four new borough-based jails. The hope is to rehabilitate inmates versus severely punishing them. Not only will the look of the jails be softened with brighter colors, but the innovative programs implemented will hopefully provide inmates with the help they need.  David Tidwell, Vice President of Business Development of Cornerstone Detention Products recently traveled to New York where he could help provide the tools needed for Riker’s to move forward with their plan.  “They are trying to put the inmates in a real-life behavioral situation,” said Tidwell. “They’re trying something new, and they believe these changes in aesthetics will help them rehabilitate themselves.”  According to the Riker’s Closing Plan, each facility will be the model for direct supervision housing equipped with a modern touch, natural lighting and ample support services. The hope is to establish a more comfortable and humane environment with a dormitory like feel. “What they want is a normative environment,” Tidwell said. “They want it to be normal.”  While it can be argued that a change of atmosphere can create a more positive environment and uplift morale, some believe that this may not make a difference in the long run. Tidwell said it’s important to pay attention to the root problem, instead of the problems that take place inside the jail. The crimes committed start with the person and their upbringing, not the color of the walls or how comfortable prison beds are. California has already implemented a similar plan by adding helpful programs at their prisons like Riker’s. The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office is also doing their part in modifying the prison facilities.  Tidwell and Sheriff Javier Salazar at the 100 Club of San Antonio’s “Guns and Hoses” event in 2019.  Sheriff Javier Salazar of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department believes that these changes couldn’t hurt the inmates in New York, and maybe this idea is something to be considered. However, the Bexar County Jail and Texas detention centers face bigger problems such as the amount of prisoners and the lack of sufficient trasporation. “It’s not necessarily overcrowding, but lack of movement in the court system,” said Salazar.  Salazar said that there are inmates who suffer from mental health issues and are solely placed in prison because there is nowhere else to put them. This is most likely because there are not enough rehabilitation facilities in San Antonio and it’s surrounding areas that could cater to their specific needs. Salazar said that there are about a good 700 to 800 inmates who are being held at the jail because they have mental health issues.   There are numerous programs and services in place at the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) jail that are made to help inmates lead a better life.  Salazar said that there are General Educational Development Test (GED) programs as well as programs that are designed to change behavior. These include anger management and parenting classes, educational, chaplaincy and social services. Inmates can work within the jail, and even take courses on job readiness and basic computer skills. There are also support group opportunities that can help them better navigate life through mental health issues. Riker’s Island’s reformative plan is about installing programs like these. Such as changing the colors of the walls, providing comfortable beds and chairs in hopes that it will create a more positive and encouraging impact.  The newly reimagined prison complex and helpful programs is estimated to become a reality in 2027. There are hopes that by that time, BCSO will announce a similar plan for Bexar County inmates. “The vast majority of our inmate population just needs a hand up, a job, a job skill, they need to learn some interview skills, and pick up a trade,” said Salazar. Rehabilitation and second chances seem to be a running theme for a small majority of prisons and jails. Luckily, Bexar County is on a similar page in hopes of more programs like the concept in New York. 
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