What changes have occurred in the prison system that has affected what you can and cannot do in those situations?

Dick Salem

 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

I want to say at the outset in discussing this case that prisons have changed considerably since I did this mediation. Gangs and drugs were not a major factor in those days. So what we accomplished in the early 1970’s might not be possible today. Minnesota had a very progressive system which focused on community corrections. Whenever they could, they would put people in community settings rather than behind bars. So the people behind bars were the most serious offenders. The youthful ones were at the State Reformatory for Men in St. Cloud, about 75 miles from the Twin Cities. The background is that in an effort to change with the times, the reformatory superintendent did some things to recognize racial differences, and in the process, he inadvertently exacerbated racial tensions within the institution. St. Cloud had about 450 confined youths. white males predominated. There were about 25 American Indians, about the same number of African Americans, and five or six Hispanics. To help compensate for their minority status, the inmates of color were permitted to organize "culture” groups that had certain privileges. They had outside advisors who came in and worked with them. They could maintain a cultural organization with an office, telephone and staff person within the institution; observe ethnic and cultural holidays and conduct a banquet with outside visitors once a year. This would in some ways compensate for the Alcoholics Anonymous and Junior Achievement chapters, or other activities in which only white inmates participated. Everything that moved in that reformatory moved racially. There wasn’t much crossing of lines.

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