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Rehabilitation not Re-Incarceration

Frindle's picture

In America’s early history, prisons were little more than holding cells for inmates. Large numbers of prisoners of all ages, genders, and criminal history were kept together in large rooms. This caused serious problems, among them career criminals teaching new ones some of their tricks, lack of adequate nutrition and sanitation, and a lack of safety for prisoners and guards. Therefore, when the Quakers of the early 1800s broke ground on Eastern State Penitentiary, they did it in the belief that they were doing good for everyone involved. The prisoners and guards would be safe, the prisoners would be able to repent for their sins instead of learning new ways to break the law, and they would be able to do this in a clean environment.

Unfortunately, this did not last very long. Eastern State’s solitary confinement couldn’t hold up against the number of prisoners entering the penitentiary, and even when it did, prisoners were often thinking more about how to communicate with each other than how to communicate with God. While Eastern State was founded with good intentions, it ended up being very similar to older prisons: people who left often reverted back to crime and ended up back in jail (usually for something more serious).

This is a pressing issue that faces American prisons today. The high recidivism rate for prisoners today is proof that something needs to change. The goal of prisons should not be an area where prisoners can be stored for a few months or years before coming back after having committed a more serious crime. Instead, prisons should be a place where people learn alternate methods to survival that do not include criminal activities. As Jody Kent, public policy coordinator of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project said “I agree [violent criminals] need to be taken off the streets…but they should be coming out so they're no longer dangerous. The system we have in place hasn’t solved that problem” (CQ Press 292). Instead, prisons should allow for prisoners to educate themselves –– and not just to a high school GED.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested for at least one serious new crime, and more than half are re-incarcerated within three years of release…former prisoners account for an estimated 15 to 20 percent of all arrests among adults. That means that thousands of Americans are being victimized every year by criminals who have already done time without experiencing ‘correction’”(Petersilia). Clearly, what is occurring inside prisons is not helping anyone: not the released inmate, who eventually lapses back into crime, and not the average citizen, who must be wary of everyone they cross on the street. Studies show that “offenders who earn a high school equivalency diploma while behind bars are more likely to get jobs after release. Those who receive vocational skills training are more likely to get jobs and higher wages after release. And those who go through intensive drug treatment programs in prison are less likely to relapse outside of it. If we could implement effective programs, we could expect to reduce recidivism by 15 to 20 percent”(Petersilia). This means that not only can we stop prisoners from going back to prison, we can save taxpayers thousands of dollars that would otherwise be spent on prosecuting and prison fees. 

Programs that help inmates reintegrate into society (ranging from education and subsidized housing to anger management training and drug treatment) can “cut the recidivism of high-risk offenders by as much as 20 percent” (Petersilia).

What this means is that there is a definitive answer to stopping crime: resolve issues that cause the crime to occur in the first place. One of the best treatments is simply an education (many prisoners are unable to read or write) that will allow them to earn a job that pays enough wages after they are released. In short, prisons need to start targeting the specific problems the inmates have. Doing this saves taxpayers money, lessens overcrowding in prisons, and leads to a safer society.

Now we need to ask ourselves: why are we focused on re-incarceration instead of rehabilitation?

Works Cited

CQ Press. "Prison Reform." Ed. Kathy Koch. CQ Researcher 17.13 (2007): 291-311. Web.

Joan, Petersilia. "Beyond the Prison Bubble." National Institute of Justice. N.p., 3 Nov. 2011. Web.