I grew up having no knowledge of the prison system. To me, prison was the place to send bad people for the sole purpose of keeping them locked away from society. I gave no thought to what was done to prisoners which is an important consideration since many are locked away for months and years at a time, and some for a lifetime.
The Purpose of the Prison System
Then I learned that in addition to keeping inmates separated from society, prisons were supposed to fulfill three purposes:
Punishment; Correction; and Rehabilitation.
Through punishment, prisoners pay the price for having committed a crime and this is accomplished by locking them away and denying them access to the free world, while keeping them under round-the-clock surveillance. Through correction, the goal is to effect a change of direction that could lead them toward lives that are minus criminal intentions. Through rehabilitation, the goal is to incite a transformation that’s real enough to inspire them to never walk down the criminal path again. Once these goals are successfully achieved, inmates would then be allowed to rejoin society and contribute for the greater good by living in a responsible and a law-abiding manner.
Are the prison systems achieving their goals? Are prisoners being converted and reentering society as better people? Unfortunately, reports and statistics indicate that incarceration has little, if any positive effects on prisoners. In fact, the operations of most prisons only succeed in training inmates to be better, more efficient criminals. What’s worse, the prison population continues to increase not only because of new arrivals, but also because of repeat offenders. In fact, one of the major problems experienced by former long-term prisoners returning to society is they’re completely overwhelmed by and totally ignorant of the world outside the prison doors.
Solutions have been suggested that could go a long way in sustaining a well-organized prison system. For example, it has been proposed that inmates pay for their meals and even pay for the beds in which they sleep. This proposal conjures up another idea: considering that the aim is to prepare inmates to reenter society as reliable, trustworthy citizens, why not remodel the prison system so that it resembles the outside world as closely as possible?
When prisoners are released on parole or probation, obtaining employment is usually a mandatory requirement as part of the terms of their release. Currently, prisoners are subjected to a type of work regimen. Taken a step further, they could be put on a 40-hour work week schedule where they would be required to work 8-hour days, five days a week. Jobs would consist of work the inmates are already familiar with or they could learn new trades and occupations. The important thing is that they continue to work in fields they could pursue once they were out of the prison system. At the end of each work week, inmates would receive adequate salaries from which they would be expected to pay for all of their necessities (set at reasonable rates) such as rent, food, utilities, and anything else a person would typically be expected to pay for when taking care of themselves.
The Evolution of Rehabilitation
It has been reported that the rehabilitation process was largely discredited and abandoned many decades ago when prisons began to expand to accommodate its growing population. With this growth came the decision that prison systems were no longer responsible for reforming prisoners, and neither should it be concerned with what happens to them once they leave the system. Instead, the focus settled on punishment alone, and striving to make life as difficult and unpleasant as possible was the primary way that punishment was carried out.
It should be noted, however, that certain prison systems in Oregon and Missouri have begun comprehensive programs of a precise nature where the sole purpose is to teach inmates how to work with all the things inside the prison that will help them to quickly adapt to and survive in the world outside the prison. Not only do these programs include working a standard 40-hour work week, but they also train the inmates to work at higher paying jobs in fields like telemarketing and computer technology. With this newly-implemented system, prisoners can leave a life of incarceration possessing valid resumes that show impressive work and education backgrounds . . . with money in their pockets!
Since the inception of these types of programs in Oregon and Missouri, other states have begun programs of their own as well. Though their programs may not be nearly as comprehensive, the point is the importance of rehabilitation in the prison systems is once again becoming a point of focus.
Prison Fund Allotment
A large portion of prison funds received could be allocated to bringing instructors in to teach and train inmates on jobs that are generated in today’s society. Also, everyone knows how important it is to relax on the weekends after working all week and inmates should be given the same consideration. Therefore, another portion of prison funds could be allotted to creating events that inmates could participate in on weekends. For instance, movies, social gatherings or assorted games (bowling, roller skating, dances, etc.) would give them something to look forward to while at the same time giving them an outlet for their pent up emotions. It should be noted that just because they’re incarcerated doesn’t mean that prisoners should no longer have outlets or take part in social activities. In fact, socializing is important because it would help to retain civility and normalcy in their lives, characteristics that are needed to maintain balance and to fortify a person’s spirit. Again, prisoners should pay a reasonable amount for these services from their weekly salaries.
A process like this would not only serve the purpose of conditioning the inmates to a life that’s similar to the lives of people living in the outside world, but it would also reimburse the system when the inmates pay for these services. Just as important, the prisoners will learn how to live responsibly by actually paying their way instead of taking or stealing from others. In short, these routines could place inmates on the path to civilization again.
One service that should be maintained is the option for inmates to regularly attend church at no cost (but they should be encouraged to donate a certain amount of their salaries during church services). Through this exceedingly important service, they could then be introduced, or re-introduced, to the life-giving source of all humanity: God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. There have been terrible consequences for the removal of God from society and the ever-increasing prison population reflects one of those consequences. Like most things in the world today, the prison system is probably in an extreme state of confusion and ultimately, only the intervention of our Father will be able to effectively resolve the problem. However, until God intervenes, we should do everything whenever, wherever and however we can to improve the conditions in our world.
Next, reentry programs would have to be in effect. This means having programs in place that are specifically designed to assist newly-released inmates with obtaining decent, affordable housing and good-paying jobs. Reentry programs would not only be a source of help for former inmates, it could also be a source of employment for them as well. After all, who could better assist a newly-released inmate with adjusting to the outside world than a former inmate who has successfully made the transition? Once they’re established within society again, it would be up to people to do their part by giving these former inmates the chance to prove themselves.
It appears that the operations behind prison systems have been executed under a grave misconception. The overall method of management has been to exert threats and physical force with the intention of keeping an inmate in line. Inmates are human beings, not animals; and they’re adults, not children so constant punishment in and of itself will not work. Respect must be present and each person must be treated as though they are just as worthy as the next person, inside or outside the jail cell. Of course there must be discipline but this discipline could be largely issued through the workforce plan by enforcing a rigorous 40-hour work week that mandates on time, daily arrivals and strict work habits. A plan that incorporates the mending and reshaping of the whole person must be conceived and put into action.
The proposals given here may sound like a day at the beach was being set up for prisoners instead of operating prison as a place where they’re sent to serve out a sentence. It’s a well-known fact that some prisoners are filled with insurmountable hostility and a penchant for violence, making it extremely difficult to treat them with respect. Indeed for some, attempts at reformation may be a dismal failure in the beginning. However, these proposals aren’t meant to coddle inmates. It’s merely suggested that new arrivals not be greeted with the same crude and disrespectful treatment that no doubt contributed to placing them on the wrong path in the first place. Instead, start by trying to show them the right way it should’ve been done from the start, and show them not by intimidation but with genuine respect. If the attempt to indoctrinate them into the proper way of living fails, then the usual form of punishment should be dispensed with a firm and unrelenting hand (as long as it’s not cruel and unusual), and the punishment should rightfully continue until the inmate repents and shows a reasonable amount of willingness to change his/her ways.
It costs approximately $28,000 – $30,000 a year to care for one inmate. If we can pay this much and only end up with inmates that eventually return to the system unchanged or worse people than they were when they first arrived, then this money isn’t being used in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. The proposals mentioned aren’t new and considering the condition of this world, they probably wouldn’t be simple to execute. However, if these plans were seriously implemented and followed, it’s possible that a significant change might be noted. In any event, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try given that the current system could use some improvements.