Breaking News: Fear and Discouragement Don't Rehabilitate Prisoners

By Christopher Zoukis

American Prisons: A Failure of the Greatest Magnitude

The state and federal prison systems of America are in tatters.  Inmates are being transformed into hardened convicts.  Recidivism rates continue to rise.  And all the while, the concept of prison rehabilitating offenders has become a running joke, ongoing dialogue on prison reform aside.

It's pathetic, plain and simple.  Inmates are real people that go through real struggles and aren't provided the tools they require to succeed, but still the American people expect prisoners to be rehabilitated upon their release from custody.  It's laughable to think that inmates could leave prison without any type of additional education, vocational training, or treatment program and succeed in an unfamiliar and unaccepting world outside prison walls.  American corrections simply provides no structure or protocol to promote recovery, and the significant stigma against former prisoners acts in a way that practically ensues that all will return to a life of crime and recidivate.

The Onion Presents its Case: Prisons Don't Make People More Employable?

It's crucial that prison policies, procedures, and governing principles changes to assist former inmates in leading a better, more productive, and law-abiding life after their term of incarceration has concluded.  In fact, the need for reform is so obvious that even "The Onion" -- the satirical newspaper -- wrote an entire article characterizing the thought process of those who think that prison provides inmates with the tools required to leave prison and not return to a life of crime.

"It just doesn't seem possible that an inmate could live for a decade and a half in a completely dehumanizing environment in which violent felons were constantly on the verge of attacking or killing him and not emerge an emotionally stable, productive member of society."

While satirical to the utmost degree, this is the situation we currently find ourselves in.  According to http://prisonlawblog.com, prisoners are subjected to damaging, dangerous, and violent prison cultures.  In order to survive, they change.  While at first they might be wrongdoers (but not hardened, violent wrongdoers), they eventually are forced to change into true convicts in order to survive the prison experience.  Regardless of this, the American people expect these people -- inmates who've had to fight to protect their commissary purchases or simply for seats at a chow hall table -- to hit the ground running and abide by social standards of conduct upon their release from custody.  This is plainly a joke.

"The Onion" article continues, "Gunderson then noted his additional confusion at how the man's criminal record and the social stigma of his prison sentence had somehow failed to land him a steady job immediately upon his release."  While obviously a joke, this is the attitude that many have, an attitude that leads to existing flaws in our criminal justice system persisting relentlessly due to a lack of understanding, reform, and even plain old logical analysis.

Figuring Out a Better Way to Rehabilitate Prisoners

Despite the humor of "The Onion's" article, it still presents an important point -- inmates are placed in environments that aren't conducive to rehabilitation.  And while prisons themselves are supposed to be punishment for crime, ideally they still should address the end result that the entire system is designed to fulfill: a successful reintegration back into society of former wrongdoers who will abide by the law, pay their taxes, work, and support their local communities and nation.

Whether it's through prison education, better oversight, therapy, drug treatment, vocational training, life skills classes, or any of the other numerous ways to address rehabilitation in prison, there needs to be something in place that is designed to ensure that inmates are able to contribute to society upon their release from custody, otherwise there will continue to be sky high recidivism rates and the victimization that comes hand-in-hand with that.  According to http://prisonlawblog.com, current strategies are simply inadequate, so much so that they can be easily turned into satire.