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In his new book, Life Behind Bars, Femi Olawole takes a deep dive into the causes of deviant behaviour, psychological assessment of crime, life in prison, reintegration into society and recidivism.

Olawole is an ex-banker, award-winning  journalist, author, certified accountant,  social commentator and blogger. He retired as Lieutenant from the Delaware Department of Corrections after a 15-year tour of duty with the state’s largest law enforcement agency. Before joining the Delaware Department of Corrections, he was a freelance journalist. In his capacity as member of the newspaper’s Community Advisory Board. he contributed a weekly column of social commentaries to The News Journal (Delaware’s top-most newspaper).

In 1993,Femi  Olawole received the prestigious Nigerian Media Merit Award in the Business Reporting category for his work, Sailing On Dark Waters. He is also the author of The Temptation of Fate and The Tower of Mammon. Femi Olawole lives with his family in Delaware, United States of America.

Last week, Femi met Oludare Sorunke, Publisher, BLACKWASH to discuss his new book.

From idea to gathering of materials, developing the chapters, to review and publish, how long did it take you to write Life Behind Bars

Life Behind Bars was a painstaking process that took me about eight months to accomplish. This is my fourth book, but my first in the subject of crime. I had a different experience documenting crime.

Journalist, author, social commentator, Femi Olawole

 As an ex-law enforcement officer, don’t you fear a backlash as a result of exposing the lapses in US Prison system?

Actually, Life Behind Bars confirms the current situation of the prison system in America and an urgent call to action to prison administrators. The book also shares insights into prison life for the enlightenment of members of the public.

Please show the demography of crime in the USA and expound on the motivations behind violent crimes and its upsurge. 

The June 2023 report published by Statista explains that in 2021, the rate of violent crime in the United States was 395.7 cases per 100,000 of the population. Though, violent crime has decreased since 1990, the United States of America tops the ranking of countries with the most prisoners. This trend lasted until 2001, when crime rates began to rise slightly until dropping again the next year and continued declining again until 2006 then levered back downward from 2007 to 2015. This was once again reversed in 2018 and 2019 after increasing from 2015 to 2017, but violent crime increased significantly again in 2020 until declining once more in 2022.

Criminal behaviour is typically influenced by a combination of biological, psychological and social factors.

Different crimes are committed by men and women. Please discuss what crimes are most committed by men vs women. Between a man and woman, adult and adolescent, who is more likely to commit crime? 

Generally, no particular gender, race or age group has monopoly of crime. Crime cuts across demographics. The commission of crimes cuts across genders and age brackets. It is generally assumed that men are more likely to commit crimes against other people, irrespective of gender or age bracket. It should however be noted that the gravity of violence employed in the commission of crimes by men is usually higher than those committed by women. For instance, a woman is more likely to be an accomplice to a man in the commission of a crime than to be the originator of the crime.

Studies have shown that the cultural, environmental and traditional concepts of communities also play a major role, providing authorities with a potential basis for behavioral patterns learned by offenders during their upbringing.

According to the Office Of Justice Programs, crimes like burglary and vandalism have gone down during the past few years for men, and crimes like murder and robbery have gone down for women. For both genders, most of the crimes committed are done by people ages 25 and above. For example, out of the 7,632,470 crimes documented in year 2020, 5,721,190 of them were committed by someone who was at least 25 years of age, 4,225,140 of them being committed by men and 1,496,050 being committed by women.

Lieutenant Femi Olawole at his desk at Delaware Department of Corrections
Lieutenant Femi Olawole at his desk at Delaware Department of Corrections

It appears that people from dysfunctional families are more prone to crime than those who are not. What is your take on this? 

From my personal experience as an ex-law enforcement officer, people from dysfunctional homes are not only more exposed to being victims of crimes, but are also prone to commit crimes. For example, kids of divorced, single mothers are exposed to abuses from caregivers, family members and the men that walk in and out of the woman’s life.

Also, there is a likelihood for people from lower socioeconomic status who have childhood trauma that later results in mental illness to be involved in crime at a young age.

Consequently, such kids are liable to be negatively influenced by the conditioning of their environment and the influence of other adults. Also, research suggests that being socially isolated along with parents not setting boundaries while not teaching their kids about the risks and consequences of certain actions can cause them to commit violent acts as they get older.

Many people have blamed Hollywood for having a bad influence on American society. Why do people appreciate movies that have strong themes like violence, drugs, sex? 

I believe psychologists are in a better position to answer this question. However, studies have shown that children learn more by what they see than what they are taught. Over time, movies that portray violence, sex and drugs have a strong impression on children. They may develop a propensity for crime where the characters in a movie do not show remorse or escape justice.

Do prisoners really feel remorseful after arrest and prosecution? At what point do they break down? 

Irrespective of genders, reactions differ from one individual to another. However, it’s common for newly committed inmates to feel emotionally disoriented and depressed. Officers must keep a special watch over them as some of them have a tendency to commit suicide.

What measures has the American Prison system put in place for inmates to acquire skills, education and reintegrate into the society? Do prisoners really leave prisons better citizens? 

While each state has different laws to which correctional centers are subjected, they all have similar rehabilitation programs. These programs are designed to redeem and reintegrate prison inmates back to their communities.

Through these laudable programs, some inmates have obtained university degrees, while others have trained as professional chefs, artisans, etc. But there are still many inmates who shun the programs. An inmate who has an habitual disdain for constituted authority is very likely to relapse into crime.

Tell us about life after prison. 

Often times, prisoners experience a  precarious life when they leave  prison. For many, jobs have been lost, relationships harmed, and living situations  changed. Also, they may not have a social network, financial support, insurance, or the resources needed to secure a job, find a home, meet with a therapist, or reconnect with the community.

Studies have shown that former inmates face numerous psychological challenges when released from prison, including stigma, discrimination, isolation, and instability. This can lead to devastating outcomes, like failed relationships, homelessness, substance misuse, recidivism, overdose, and suicide.

What should we expect after Life Behind Bars

I’m working on another project at the moment. I’m also having my Book tour.  Writing is time and energy consuming.

Where can we get your book? 

 Life Behind Bars is available in paperback and eBook at the following: Life Behind Bars: Olawole, Femi: 9798852184030: Books and 

Which state has the best prison facilities in the USA? And which states have the lowest crime rates? 

American prison facilities are in the same mold because their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are subjected to constant reviews and accreditation by appropriate authorities. Statistically, the state of Alaska is considered to be the most dangerous state in America, followed by Nevada, New Mexico and Tennessee, while Maine has the lowest crime rate, followed by New Hampshire and Vermont.

Let us dimension crime: domestic violence, crack cocaine, murder, rape, cybercrime, fraud, armed robbery, theft, illegal possession of weapons, etc, which of these occur more frequently and which carry stiffer penalties? 

Reports show that there were 7.9 million U.S. property crimes in 2016, totaling $15.6 billion in losses. 71.2% of these crimes were classified as larceny, followed by burglary (19.1%) and vehicular theft (9.7%). These percentages reflected a 1.3% decrease from 2015 and a 48% drop from 1993. All crimes here occur in pari passu. But murder carries the stiffest penalty.

According to reports, violent crimes in the USA have decreased in the past 25 years. However, as of May 2023, about 14,000 people have died from gun violence. What accounts for this? 

Gun violence has reached an epidemic proportion in the United States. According to Amnesty International, more than 500 people die every day from gun violence, 44% of all homicides globally involve gun violence,  an estimated 2,000 people are injured by gunshots every single day, at least 2 million people are living with firearm injuries around the world.

Easy access to firearms is one of the main drivers of gun violence. There are 8million new small arms and up to 1.5billion rounds of ammunition produced each year. The small arms trade is worth an estimated US$8.5b per year. Gun violence has become a human rights crisis in the the USA.

Gun violence is typically concentrated in low income urban neighbourhoods with high levels of crime. This often includes trafficking in illicit drugs, inadequate policing or policing which does not comply with international standards on human rights and law enforcement, and lack of access to public services. Unfortunately, the USA does not have a national firearms registry.

Some countries in Europe and Asia are shutting down their prisons, why?

Each clime is different. The American society is premised on absolute freedom and liberty as enshrined in the constitution. Yet, the society also has laws to check excesses and deviant behaviour. Unfortunately, some citizens cannot draw boundaries. They are confused between their own freedom of expression and infringement on the rights of others. That you live in a free society does not mean you should not be mindful of your actions.

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Black wash

Black wash

Blackwash is home to news, events, entertainment, inspiration and the rich cultural assemblage of the man and woman of colour. Blackwash echoes the beauty, struggles and successes of black people in Nigeria and diaspora. Every day, Blackwash publishes contents that impact lives spiritually, intellectually and professionally. Blackwash is powered by PROJECT MANAGEMENT HUB BN 2522711.

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