Prison: Punishment or Reform?
The main reason for most prisons is supposedly to remove potential threats to the safety of society. This is what I was told growing up at least. However, I don’t think we’ve properly thought through what happens to the people when they are exiled from society. The New Yorker poses a good question to ponder:
How is it that our civilization, which rejects hanging and flogging and disembowelling, came to believe that caging vast numbers of people for decades is an acceptably humane sanction?
Where the people go and what they do when they’re removed from society are incredibly important things to consider. Of course there are things that can be done in society to prevent people from becoming criminals, but once it gets past that point, should prison be punishment or reform?
The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “exercise.” (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected.
It’s evident that prison is often seen as punishment for those who have “wronged” society, but should prison be only a place where people are punished?
Prisons today operate less in the rehabilitative mode of the Northern reformers “than in a retributive mode that has long been practiced and promoted in the South,”
Are all people just one mistake away from being forever forsaken? Or should prison be a place where the misguided can grow into better people?
Prisoner Recidivism and How to Help Change It: Write a Prisoner
In a study following two thirds of total released prisoners in the US,
67.5% of prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested within 3 years, an increase over the 62.5% found for those released in 1983
Research has shown that education and training can help stop the cycle of incarceration that has become so normal in America. There are many programs in prisons all over the world designed to help prisoners. Either by encouraging prisoners to read or promoting positive behaviors.
One such program trying to add a splash of reform to this dreary situation is Write a Prisoner. The group focuses on connecting inmates with positive influences on the outside world to help foster responsibility, good habits, and a positive attitude about life. It is meant to combat depression and create a connection to society to avoid feelings of isolation.
With millions of inmates in America’s penal system, it is important to keep in mind that nearly all of them will at some point be released. “
In the Write a Prisoner‘s list of Top Ten Ways to Reduce Recidivism it talks about the different ways people on the outside can help change the lives of inmates for the better. You can write a letter and change an inmate’s life
By encouraging a positive attitude, an attitude of realistic hopefulness, and the knowledge that someone on the outside cares. Believe it or not, your few words of sincere encouragement make a tremendous impact on an inmate
The website has inmate profiles to help you connect with an inmate and get started changing someone’s life. Here are a few testimonials from former inmates who were part of the Write a Prisoner program:
One cannot fully understand the therapeutic effects one receives from correspondence with his or her peers on the outside.” (M.J., Hagerstown, MD)
Despair, disappointment, anger, frustration, hopelessness and heartache wake us up in the morning and put us to sleep at night. We have become the forgotten, the faceless, the overlooked, the unwanted, and the unloved.” (H.S., White Deer, PA)
My friends and family outside of prison have all disappeared. Everyday is a struggle to retain an ounce of dignity. I don’t seek pity. I ask you to remember that prison is a very lonely place. Having someone willing to listen, confide in and be an outside source of strength will help to make prison life bearable.” (T.C., Shakopee, MN)
The worst solitude is to be destitute of a sincere friendship!” (R.L., Raiford, FL)
So if you want to get involved remember that helping others is good for your health!
Sources and Resources:
The New Yorker: Caging of America
Video Innovative Program Aims to Break Cradle-to-Prison Cycle
Young Men Are ‘Victims of Jail Cycle’