Two ex-convicts pleaded with 40 students in Phillips Brooks House last night to help re-channel some of the economic and educational resources of Harvard to overcrowded and unfit prisons in Massachusetts.
John McGrath, a member of the National Coalition for Correctional Change, proposed that students work to have Harvard build several halfway houses on University-owned property in Boston and Cambridge.
"There is so much you undergraduates could do." Arnie Coles, president of the National Prisoners' Rights Association said at the meeting. "Students are the only ones who have consistently supported prisoners and shared their education and resources and you can't stop now. We need your resources."
"You're in your own prisons here at Harvard," Coles said. "It's about time you come to Walpole and find out what principles are all about. You could see that our society's prisons are nothing but the dumping grounds for people who are denied schooling and training."
McGrath complained that no professors had come to the organizational meeting of the PBH Prisoners Committee. "The government gives away all its money to Boston University. Harvard University so that all the intellectuals do research here but they never apply anything to society. They talk about peace. Well, if they don't do anything at home first, we'll just have to wake them up. Maybe we'll have to burn some girl here in Harvard Square," he said.
Joseph Sandler '75, co-chairman of the Prisoners Committee, told the group. "You can try to lock up all your problems. But they're starting to come out now and there's nothing you can do to stop them."
Sandler said the two most significant problems in prison reform were the lack of access of lawyers and the public to prisoners and the failure to hold prison guards and officials accountable for their treatment of inmates.
When Governor Francis W. Sargent fired reform-minded corrections commissioner John Boone this August, Sandler said, he exacerbated these problems by cutting out such innovative programs as prisoner furloughs and 24-hour citizen observation in prisons.
"The guards at Walpole played games with the prisoners to incite riots in order to keep the pot boiling. It was a deliberate and successful attempt to get rid of Boone and his programs, to justify human warehousing and more security." Sandler said.
In response to a question from the audience Coles said. "No penal system will work. Life sentences won't deter some people from doing anything."
Sandler suggested that students act on McGrath's proposal and ask Charles U. Daly, vice president for Government and Community Affairs, to have Harvard fund a halfway house in Cambridge. He also proposed that students lobby in the state legislature for a more reasonable penal code