Prison Education as a Tool for Socialization (Part 1)

By Christopher Zoukis

Generally, the idea of crime is a violation of generally agreed upon societal norms; societal norms which have been codified into law via criminalization. The concept is that society has deemed certain actions to be acceptable and others to be unacceptable. When someone violates a social norm they are chastised so as to acknowledge the breaking of social norms. This in turn acts as a correction to the individual who violated the norm and as a warning to the rest who might do so. This chastisement maintains the agreed upon social order which facilitates basic life in our nation and throughout the world.

Some forms of chastisement are not so bad. For example, a friend voicing disagreement, a teacher giving a bad grade, or even a parent grounding their child as a show of disapproval. All of these, while not pleasant, allow the offender to reflect upon their actions, correct them, and go on with life relatively unabated. This is the purpose of small correction; the person is not hindered from living life, but they will remain with the reminder of their correction. Hence, their behavior should theoretically conform according to the level, kind, and motivation of the correction.

Other forms of chastisement are much worse. Incarceration and capital punishment come to mind; motivations for which are deemed severe enough to lock the offender away for a period of time or to take their life. These forms of punishment, as with the lesser forms, serve to correct the offender and to provide others with the knowledge of the punishment; to serve as a cautionary tale; a boundary which must not be crossed by others. The difference, though, is that neither of these methods of correction allows the offender to easily reintegrate themselves back into general society. One, because of certain death. The other, because of being labeled a "Felon" for the rest of their life.

The problem with the latter, more extreme forms of correction is that the system is built to punish only, it does not allow the offender to return to society unabated. This causes the offender to go through additional hardships which need not occur. While a fulfilling and deserving aspect to victims of crime, this certainly doesn't contribute to the reduction of crime or to the rehabilitation of the offender. American society is very dichotomous in this nature, they profess a desire for reductions in crime, yet promote it to the fullest with "tough-on-crime" criminal justice policies; policies which fill the prisons and revoke offenders' supervised release; that don't foster an environment where the offender can succeed in life outside of prison, thus driving them back into the role of the criminal or outcast.

As with children, a method of anticipatory socialization is needed. In children, this anticipatory socialization is aimed at preparing the child for life as an adult. For offenders, this anticipatory socialization is aimed at preparing the offender for their eventual return to the general society. The problem is often that the offender sits inside the prison and doesn't engage in any healthy means of growth. Hence, the only change to the offender's psyche or mentality is a direct result of the callous prison environment for which they find themselves inside.