Does the Corrections System Care About Inmates?
I can relate to the feelings of tax payers who want vengeance from those who have broken society’s laws. Prisoners have been convicted of crimes, and many of you want them to pay. Yet prisoners eventually pay that debt and return to society. Although punishment should represent one component of society’s response to crime, an enlightened approach might also include programs through which inmates can reconcile with society and earn their freedom through merit. I do not believe society benefits by funding these human warehouses that breed failure and high recidivism rates.
I do not think staff members as individuals relate to prisoners with a common humanity. Staff policies discourage them from interacting with prisoners on a personal level. The reason for this separation is that close interactions between inmates and staff can threaten the security of a prison environment. Security and preservation of the institution trumps the system’s concern for the inmate’s development. If the system had concerns about preparing inmates for law-abiding, contributory lives upon release, they would offer opportunities for inmates to earn freedom through merit. Instead, all that matters is the turning of calendar pages. The infrastructure inside generates a lot of friction and callousness and cynicism. I would not go so far as to write that staff members want to see inmate failure, though the policies of the system seem to discourage staff members from focusing on anything that would have to do with correcting behavior.
My term in prison began in 1987. I began serving my sentence inside the walls of a high-security penitentiary. After several years, I transferred to a medium-security prison. Then administrators transferred me to a low-security prison, where I was held for eight years. In 2003, administrators transferred me to a minimum-security camp, and I expect to remain in camp until my release, in 2012. After having served more than 21 years in prisons of every security level, I would conclude that very little correcting goes on. Prisons are more like human warehouses. Changes may come, but for now there does not seem to be a lot that would suggest to me that the system particularly “cares” about inmates. The allegiance that administrators show is to society. Through their myopic view, they create infrastructures that alienate prisoners. They limit access to education; they disrupt family ties; they extinguish hope; they punish rather than incentivize. As a consequence of such un-American policies, prisons breed failure as high recidivism rates show.
That is my perspective as a long-term prisoner. Through my writing, I hope to help others understand more about America’s prison system and urge reform.