Prison Administrators Can Lower Recidivism Rates by Offering Incentives

By · Sunday, March 8th, 2009

As I watched political news shows this past Sunday morning, I heard many Republican pundits assailing President Obama’s economic stimulus package with accusations that it lacks incentives for success. I wish those conservatives would support the use of incentives when deliberating over strategies for prison reform. For more than 21 years I’ve served time in various institutions within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and I’ve lived through this culture where incentives seem to be an anathema. We need prison reforms that would reverse this trend.

As the federal prison system operates today, prisoners do not have a mechanism through which they can work toward earning freedom. That is a tragedy. It is a flawed policy that contributes to high recidivism rates, higher prison budgets, and a growing us-versus-them subculture that threatens the fabric of society.

We need prison reforms that would encourage offenders to work toward meaningful incentives. Prison administrators do not serve the interests of society when they govern with policies that extinguish hope. Administrators rely upon a rigid disciplinary code to punish bad behavior; we need prison reforms that will introduce an equally objective incentive system to reward positive adjustments.

Incentives do not have to increase prison budgets. Prisons are total institutions, where administrators control the infrastructure by which all prisoners live. In setting prison policies, administrators dictate how much access prisoners have to telephone, visits, education, food, clothing, recreation, and housing. Through the use of incentives, they can encourage prisoners to strive toward graduated increases in freedom. They may earn more telephone access, more family time, more control over housing assignments through positive adjustments. A proper incentive system would encourage prisoners to work toward earning freedom through desirable adjustments.

In designing a meaningful incentive system, administrators could induce more offenders to prepare for law-abiding lives upon release. That would lower recidivism rates and make society safer. It is the reason I call for meaningful prison reform through which offenders can earn freedom.

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One Response to “Prison Administrators Can Lower Recidivism Rates by Offering Incentives”

  1. Stephanie Kidder says:

    March 8, 2009

    Mr. Santos:

    I’m a student of Dr. Torres and I’ve been reading your book, Inside, and reading your blogs, which are both shinning a light to incarceration I never knew about. In your article entitled “Prison Administrators Can Lower Recidivism Rates by Offering Incentives”.You indicate that with recidivism being so high there should be a way to reverse this and find a way for prisoners to have incentives to gain freedoms. In your book you also wrote about your experience at Kent City Jail, where they practiced using incentives to get inmates to cooperate and improve their living conditions. From the way you describe it that system corrections does work in some places, like Kent, and could work in other jails and prisons also. I agree with the stand your taking on reforming our prisons to help induce inmates to prepare them to be law abiding citizens upon release. My questions to you are, what specific sort of incentives do you think are appropriate for the prison system? Should those incentives to gain freedoms be offered to all prisoners, regardless of why they are imprisoned? Also, how would correctional officers and their co-workers at prisons benefit from giving incentives for freedoms to prisoners?

    I appreciate the time your taking to contribute to my understanding of corrections,
    Stephanie Kidder