By: Ryan Pettigrew
Prison recidivism rates (percentage of released prisoners who return to prison) remain high but fixing it is possible with the right strategy. Unfortunately for society, those who establish policy for prison systems only understand the issue theoretically. They read a text book but never fought on the front lines and theoretical solutions tend to be out of touch with reality. Once again, the solution is common sense but not easy to apply since that would require a philosophical overhaul of the status quo and I don’t know many people who like to admit they’re wrong, especially when in a position of authority. However, their strategies are proven ineffective with high recidivism and expensive costs for such failure.
The main issue that must be acknowledged is that the prison system doesn’t grow in power without high recidivism rates. If more people went legit after prison, less people would need to be incarcerated and that would lower the amount of jobs in the criminal justice system. Besides, can anyone name a government agency that would work hard to strip itself of power, money and jobs? So let’s face it, the prison system itself doesn’t benefit from lowering recidivism and it would be foolish to think that was its desired end.
Here’s the solution: send anyone with over 10 years remaining on their sentence to higher security prisons where they can be left to do their time. Then place anyone with five to 10 years left on their sentence in lower security prisons where the focus is on education, vocational training, addiction treatment, cognitive thinking courses and classes designed to teach them how to deal with everyday citizen activities. Once they get to five years left in their sentence, place them in halfway houses so they can get jobs and pay their own way rather than having the tax payers foot the bill. Once they save the enough money, they can get their own place on ankle monitor then work their way down on supervision until further supervision is pointless. This plan will also lower the tax payer’s bill for corrections since most inmates have less than five years and will be paying their own way in halfway houses rather than being warehoused in prisons that tax payers are responsible for. Who would’ve thought that the most effective strategy would also cost less?
This will lower recidivism drastically as the reason most go back to crime is because the majority are released to a homeless shelter with $100 and nothing else. Very few jobs are available to them and even if they got a job right away, their first paycheck wouldn’t come for a few weeks. By then, that initial release money was long gone. On top of it all, they’re released from prison ignorant and angry without being taught how to earn legally. It’s common sense that if we want less people to return to prison, we should teach them how to be productive members of society, but for some reason, the system is set up to punish people so badly that they magically become what they don’t know how to be. Plus, they need the gradual transition from prison to the halfway house to their own place otherwise they’re thrust back into survival mode with prison solutions fresh on the brain. And maybe, just maybe, we should eliminate laws which prevent ex-convicts from getting professional licenses so they can be rewarded according to value.
The Colorado prison system has everyone mixed together and I spent 12 years there, eight of that in solitary confinement. I was denied vocational training opportunities and wasn’t allowed to have my family purchase me correspondence courses to better myself. In fact, I was punished for my attempts at self-education which they also tried to prevent every step of the way. I didn’t receive any re-entry type program and they did all they could to ensure my failure. I was physically and psychologically tortured but I won’t let that destroy me. I deserved prison but not their every attempt to break me.
At the end of the day, this essay isn’t asking anyone to have sympathy for prisoners because there must be consequences for actions but these irrational policies do affect society when angry and ignorant prisoners are released from prison, only to go on rampages, victimizing citizens. The prison system as-is, encourages this so they can use it as scare tactics to increase money for prisons. The only question that matters in this issue is: do you want prisoners released ignorant and angry or prepared to do the right thing while having a legitimate chance? There’s no perfect solution but at least the latter puts the fault solely on the criminal since they had an opportunity that they chose not to take.