I have read articles, watched documentaries,
and listened to many discussions about the American prison system.
Most of them addressed issues of violence and living conditions,
which are all legitimate concerns. However, there is a bigger problem
that is not common knowledge to those outside the prison system.
This problem is that offenders inside these prisons are not receiving
the counseling and rehabilitation programs they need to overcome
their negative habits and perspectives. The tools that are needed
to create a healthy lifestyle are not available to them. In short,
offenders are being warehoused.
Instead of counselors and rehabilitation/self-help
programs, recreational activities and other privileges are available
for offenders. Things such as indoor and outdoor basketball courts,
softball fields, handball courts, indoor and outdoor exercise machines,
musical instruments, board and card games, horse shoes, 45 channel
cable, libraries with thousands of books, and TV rooms for the offenders
who don't own a TV. At the prison commissary store offenders may
buy 13 inch televisions, dual cassette stereos, CD players, typewriters,
portable radios, games, food beverages, snacks, coffee, cigarettes,
clothing, and shoes, but not one self-help or inspirational book.
All entertaining items are made available in an effort (a successful
one) to keep offenders subdued and distracted.
The self-help and rehabilitation programs that
the prisons do offer are worthless. The institutions implement them
so they can receive more funding from the Federal Government, and
the offenders take them in an effort to be released sooner. In short,
they're being abused from both sides. But even if the offenders'
efforts were sincere, they still could not benefit or grow from
the programs. This is because the programs are not designed to help
offenders. Most are designed and/or facilitated by unqualified people.
I know one program which was created and is being facilitated by
a parole officer. Programs such as: Thinking for a Change, Anger
Management, Roadblocks To Recovery, Self-Esteem, and Cage your Rage
are not facilitated by professional counselors, but caseworkers
who were trained to shuffle paper. They have no training in facilitating
or in counseling. They get an extra $50 to $100 a week for facilitating
the programs. Sometimes outside volunteers facilitate the programs,
but they have not been trained to facilitate self-help/rehab programs
either. They just receive the security training necessary to work
inside the prison.
The programs themselves mainly consist of reading
out of a booklet and having a short discussion about the material
that was read. I emphasize the word "short" because everyone
of these programs is only 16 hours long. What can you learn in 16
hours? Certainly not enough to change a lifestyle. And to make it
even worse, the 16 hours are spread out over eight weeks-one two-hour
class a week for eight weeks. This way they can list the programs
as eight-week programs to make them sound more substantial.
When institutions are over their budget, the
first thing they cut back on is the rehabilitation programs. I know
of one institution where they suspended all programs implemented
by the probation and parole department.
Most of these programs target drug offenders,
but what about violent offenders, sex offenders, and offenders convicted
of crimes such as fraud, larceny, slander, perjury, and other crimes?
Shouldn't each offender be given the tools needed to make a fresh
Most offenders have years to serve in prison.
So why offer them programs that are only 16 hours long? Since offenders
obviously lack good decision making skills, why aren't there any
professional counselors inside the prisons to help offenders deal
with and correct their problems? Changes need to be made to correct
To change this system prisons need to focus
on rehabilitating offenders and not on making money. Currently the
prison system is about making money. Some state prison systems,
for example, the one in Missouri, are at the top of the state budget
by a very wide margin. This hints that there may be financial reasons
why 80% offenders return back to prison. If the prison system is
not specifically designed to reap these results (via, no competent
help programs, and an abundance of meaningless recreational activities),
then at the very least this machine is being kept in its current
condition because of the results. For the Department of Corrections
80% recidivism means more money from the Federal Government, more
new prisons, more new jobs, more promotions more money, more money,
There are people within the Department of Corrections
who really do want to help offenders, but they don't have access
to the money needed to fund intensive rehabilitation programs. The
only thing they could do is speak out to state officials and the
media about the need for program funding, but this would probably
bring their career to a dead end.
Prisons should provide offenders with the means
to change their lifestyle, not put money in someone's pocket. This
means that there needs to be a major change in the approach to prisons
and rehabilitation. Here is what I suggest:
Have a major university design, build,and operate
a state prison. Get the Federal Government (or a private foundation)
to pay for the construction and the first two years operating expenses.
After two years all operating expenses will be covered by the university
except for medical expenses and the salaries of prison guards, who
will be the only state employees inside the prison and therefore
will be paid by the state.
The prison will be staffed by university employees,
even the parole officers. All policies will be created by a board
made of university professors. Also each department within the prison
shall be under the supervision of the senior professor in that respective
area (finance department run by the professor of finance, food service
run by professor of food service, etc.).
Further, a prison industry would be implemented
by the university to pay all operating costs of the prison after
the initial two years. This can be easily accomplished by requiring
that each offender work 30 hours a week starting at $0.50 an hour
and working their way up to $1.00 an hour. This gets the offenders
in the habit of working a regular job, which is a major requirement
in today's society. It allows offenders to make money ($100 a month)
to buy food and other things from the prison commissary store. It
also allows the university to operate without outside funding or
interference, because the prison will be self-sustaining.
The prison will have an intensive rehabilitation
program set up in step-down stages such as: 8) Prison Adjustment;
7) Stress/Anger Solutions; 6) Specific Area of Offense(s); 5) Violence;
4) Drugs; 3) Crime Impact On Victims; 2) Job Skills; 1) Re-entering
Society. Each offender would be required to attend a program(s)
for a certain amount of time each day (for example, two hours a
day, five days a week) until they are released.
Also, counselors, program instructors, and parole
officers will all play a major role in the parole hearing process.
This will help give a complete picture of the offender's progress
towards rehabilitation, which will be a tremendous help in deciding
whether an offender is ready for release of not. Currently parole
officers make parole decisions based upon a set of guidelines. They
don't even meet the offender until a few weeks before his parole
hearing, and then there's just a thirty minute interview.
This system will work for several reasons. First,
it would be self-sustaining, not needing outside funding. In fact
it would actually make a large profit. For example take a business
with 50 employees in which you paid each of them $10 an hour and
they worked 40 hours a week year round. Their combined salaries
would come to 1,040,000 each year. Now imagine having 1000 employees
in which you paid each of them $100 dollars a month working 30 hours
year round. Their salaries would come to 1,200,000. That's having
1000 employees working for you for a little over the cost you would
pay 50 workers (you would have tremendous profit margin). Getting
offenders to work 30 hours a week for $100 a month will not be an
issue. Most offenders currently work 30 hours a week and get paid
$8.50 a month. They would be happy to be able to work and earn money
to buy extra food, cosmetics writing supplies, stamps, and other
things which make their incarceration more bearable.
Second, with competent counselors and psychologists
available to guide offenders, along with the intensive rehabilitation
programs, offenders will have the tools needed for them to change
their lifestyle. It will be easy to screen out the offenders who
aren't making a sincere effort. These offenders can be transferred
to the mainstream prisons to make room for the other offenders who
are committed to rehabilitation. Policies could be made which only
allow offenders who fit certain criteria to be admitted such as
15 year sentence or less, first time offender, recommendation from
another prison, etc.
Third, the university will be able to benefit
by: 1) offering specialized degrees in both corrections and rehabilitation;
2) it will allow the university to give the students hands-on training
in a number of different fields; 3) many scientific studies could
be done within the prison because it is a controlled environment;
4) university enrollment will increase due to the university's increase
in popularity resulting from documentaries and articles about the
prison and the university; 5) the university's assets will increase
from the prison industry; and 6) soon other universities will create
their own prison rehabilitation program. After five to ten years
of case studies and testing inside these university prisons, new
standards could be set and required for all mainstream state prisons.
We need to give offenders a fighting chance.
If your son or daughter was troubled or was doing things that harmed
themselves or others, you would immediately help them. And if their
problem became worse, you would give them even more help. You wouldn't
lock them in a room that was full of recreation equipment and a
television for years hoping they would get better, because you know
that their problem doesn't stem from the outside world, but from
their own state of mind. Isolating them from their loved ones and
the healthy things in their lives without providing a remedy for
their attitudes, doesn't help them; it only makes their condition
worse. They become more uncaring and alienated.
So please give your son, daughter, wife,
husband, uncle, aunt, cousin, neighbor, and fellow human being what
they need. Help!