From serving a term as a Missouri Senator, he went on to serve one year and a day at a federal correctional institution in Clay County, Kentucky, a county once named the unhealthiest in the country. I first heard Jeff Smith in a radio interview with Mark Reardon on KMOX in 2015. The book they were talking about was Mr. Smith Goes to Prison. I wound up purchasing the book and read it in nearly one sitting. In this conversation, we talk about this book, and the docuseries, College Behind Bars.
College Behind Bars
This past winter, I watched the documentary College Behind Bars streaming on Netflix. It’s probably the best documentary I’ve ever watched.
That series got me thinking about Jeff Smith’s book again. In the book, I remembered he wrote about recidivism at length and had suggestions in the book. Accordingly, I was thankful he agreed to come on the show to talk about his book and the issues raised in this docuseries.
- Grandmother wasn’t keen on Jeff entering politics
- Bill Bradley wetted the polical appetite
- The cause of Jeff going to prison
- Pleas for mercy and clemancy ignored
- Relaxation at a country club prison? Not even close.
- The miserable prison environment
- The education and training provided was abysmal
Two Keys to Reforming Lives
According to Jeff, there are two critical factors to helping men and women to stay out of prison once they first leave –
- Staying in close touch with loved ones during incarceration and after
Education alone is not the answer alone. During the interview, Jeff explains he had everything going for him after his release, but getting that first job was difficult.
Resources Mentioned on the Show
Favorite Highlights in the Book, Mr. Smith Goes to Prison
To my parents, for warning me to avoid politicsJeff Smith
In describing his stay in prison …
… it is a scathing indictment of a system that teaches prisoners to be better criminals instead of better citizens.Introduction – Mr. Smith Goes to Prison
Jeff states that the largest “families” in prison are the racial ones –
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, blacks constitute 74 percent of those imprisoned for drug possession despite being outnumbered five to one by whites reporting nearly equal usage rates.Chapter 2, page 60 – Mr. Smith Goes to Prison
Jeff cites research from scholars stating the case for business training:
… scholars have proposed that those who have managed criminal enterprises be trained to run legitimate businesses.Chapter 4, page 106 – Mr. Smith Goes to Prison
Jeff goes on to point out that one study reveals that inmates “scored higher than managerial professionals, scientists, and even legitimate businessmen.”
How do prisoners stay out of jail?
Academic studies show that prisoners who maintain healthy relationships with family members are much more likely to obtain employment and less likely to recidivate.Chapter 4, page 116 – Mr. Smith Goes to Prison
While the prison terminology is different, the following business activities take place daily inside prison walls (page 121):
- promotional incentives
- quality control and new product launches
- risk management
- territorial expansion
- supply chain management
- barriers to entry
Unfortunately, there is …
No one to help them write business plans, no one to help translate their intuitive grasp of business concepts into other (legal) industries, not even an Internet connection to help them learn more or begin looking for jobs.Chapter 4, page 123 – Mr. Smith Goes to Prison
There are nearly 3 million U.S. children with an incarcerated parent. What is the best way to address first-time offenders?
… the justice system should adopt electronically monitored home confinement or work release for nonviolent first-time offenders.Chapter 6, page 166 – Mr. Smith Goes to Prison
Half of all incarcerated Americans are nonviolent offenders who would not require taxpayer-funded housing, clothes, food, or constant human supervision if electronically monitored.Chapter 9, page 217 – Mr. Smith Goes to Prison
Favorite Books Mentioned by Jeff
Other Books by Jeff Smith
- The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program to Survive Crisis
- Ferguson in Black and White
- Trading Places: The Two Parties in the Electorate From 1975-2004