Prison Reform Should Include Work-Release and Study-Release

By · Monday, February 9th, 2009

How does society benefit by locking nonviolent offenders inside prison boundaries for years, decades, or multiple decades? I’ve heard the term justice, yet I’m not quite convinced that we serve justice by simply watching calendar pages turn while separating an offender from society for such long periods. As leaders contemplate appropriate prison reforms, I hope they consider the potential of initiating work-release and study-release programs that would bring far more benefits to society than simply warehousing nonviolent offenders.

My perspective on the need for prison reform has been shaped by the 21-plus years that I’ve been locked in prison. I don’t know how much more time I will serve, as my release could come in anywhere from between three and four more years. I was convicted so long ago that a different sentencing scheme was in existence; under my sentence, a parole board will have a degree of discretion to determine when justice will have been served. Whatever the parole board decides, I have the lion’s portion of my imprisonment behind me and I do not expect to receive much, if any, relief.

I do not argue for prison reform with hopes of receiving any personal benefit. My concern is for society. Despite having been a prisoner for virtually my entire adult life, I am an American and like all Americans, I deeply love this country. I want to see it improve. One area where we can improve is the way that the Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies responds to nonviolent offenders.

Certainly, some offenders have proven so threatening to society that they should rightfully serve their time in confinement. As Justice Anthony Kennedy opined, however, a nation that is strong in its sense of justice should not be so miserly in its dispensation of compassion. America confines too many people who serve sentences that are far too long.

We need a mechanism through which offenders can work toward earning their release through merit. Two of those programs should include work release and study release. After an offender has served an appropriate length of time, perhaps one-fifth of his sentence, he ought to qualify for a graduated level of freedom. That freedom ought to come with contingencies that the individual participates in and makes acceptable progress toward clearly identifiable objectives. Such a program would encourage more prisoners to earn their freedom through merit, and provide society with the advantage of lower recidivism rates. I’m convinced such results would follow this type of prison reform.

By providing nonviolent offenders with minimum-security classification with this option of earning graduated levels of freedom, administrators would lower the volatility levels inside America’s prison system. When prisoners live without hope, they fall into patterns of adjustment that show they feel as if they have nothing to lose. Prison reforms should address such misconceptions.

Currently, an inmate saddled with a ten-year sentence languishes inside some prison wasting time. All too often, his family and friends lose interest in him. The prisoner thus drops out, or makes himself comfortably numb with prison hustles, table games, or television. Some engage in every type of recreational activity as if they were 14-year-old boys without a care in the world. Prison administrators encourage such ridiculous adjustment patterns by rewarding the champions of soccer tournaments and basketball shootouts and horseshoe victories with cases of sodas and other sugary treats. To those who work toward educating themselves or building strong networks of support and community resources, on the other hand, prison administrators give only harassment. I know that first hand.

Prison reforms ought to change such priorities. Instead of focusing on preserving the sanctity of the institution with absurd appeasements that pacify the population, administrators ought to implement work release and study release programs. With such prison reforms, that inmate serving a ten-year sentence would prove himself worthy of eligibility for the enlightened programs with good behavior and community contributions for his first two years. After the successful passage of the first 20 percent of his time, he ought to qualify for an opportunity to educate himself at a local community college or vocational program; if the inmate chooses to participate in a work-release program, the inmate ought to have an opportunity to contribute his time, energy, or intellect to social programs with a need in a manner that is similar to the peace corps.

An inmate who successfully completes 20 percent of his time in such a program ought to qualify for gradual release. Perhaps that may begin with furloughs home in gradual stages and eventual release on parole. Such a program would encourage many more offenders to work toward reconciling with society.

Locking prisoners in cages for years, decades, or multiple decades does not serve the best interests of society. Preparing them for successful re-entry, on the other hand, makes good sense. We need prison reforms that will include work-release and study-release components to lower recidivism rates and make society safer.

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9 Responses to “Prison Reform Should Include Work-Release and Study-Release”

  1. Ana Isabel Plascencia says:

    I agree with you that a prison reform is needed; for studies have illustrated that a large number of offenders that are incarcerated in our prison system, when released turn out to be more unlawful than when they were incarcerated in the first place. For that reason initiating work-release and study-release programs would bring far more benefits to society than simply incarcerating offenders, by reducing recidivism. Consequently reducing prison over crowing, crime rates….But how could this reform be applied within or society, in your perspective? When due to the bad economy, our government is cutting down funds and a prison reform such as the one you suggest would require additional funding. Also our society is more concern with creating new jobs, foreclosure….than with prison reform.

  2. Noel Nicklay says:

    I agree that prison reform is a must- obviously what has been and continues to occur is not working, with recidivism rates as high as they are. What, in your opinion, would be the first thing that should be changed, or done to have a significant impact on preparing inmates for release back into society? What else do you think should be done?

  3. Ana Diaz says:

    Mr. Santos
    In your article entitled “Prison Reform Should Include Work-Release and Study-Release” you indicate that both of these reforms would be far more effective in lowering recidivism rates and making society safer. Also, you mention that prison administrators harrass those who attempt building stronger networks through education.
    My question to you is, why do you think prison administrators behave in such a manner against these individuals, such as yourself? I enjoyed reading you article and thank you for your dedication in responding to my entire class.

  4. Rachel Course says:

    March 1, 2009
    Mr. Santos:
    In your article entitled” Prison Reform Should Include Work-Release and Study-Release” you indicate that prison reform is struggling and should include work-release and study-release programs for those nonviolent offenders, for this will improve society upon their release. My question to you is although nonviolent offenders would be those eligible for work-release programs, isn’t incarceration’s purpose to “detain” those who have committed crimes and strip them of the activities most of us work for, such as employment, education, and interaction with society? If we allow them to earn small freedoms, it will lighten their sentences that they’ve earned by committing crimes. I do agree that offenders need to be productive members of society upon their release, but coming from someone who volunteers with many individuals who can not themselves receive a meaningful education, why should those who have “harmed” society be allowed to receive a better education from our tax dollars and go on to have a carefree life when released unlike some of the worthy law-abiding citizens I have come to know? I do understand that prisoners should be productive while spending days inside their cells,and education is a very productive and beneficial activity for society, but I am just unsure on how I feel about prisoners walking out of prison with degrees, because no matter how much I try to warm up to the idea, I am always thinking that they are prisoners and regardless the severity of the crime, they broke the law, harmed society’s well-being, and should therefore not be so freely allowed the privileges we law-abiding citizens enjoy, especially coming from our tax dollars. I do not mean to be rude to your education Mr. Santos and I do agree with most of your thoughts and opinions, this one however makes me uneasy. Do you think there is any possibility of a credit system for the prisoners where they can earn these privileges through cooperating in jail duties and completing a set amount of time, problem-free? If not, why don’t you think this wouldn’t work? I enjoy picking up your book every free minute I have, and it has really helped me understand life in a prison. Please take my questions into consideration and know that I understand both negative and positive aspects of this topic. Thank you for writing the articles you have and taking your time to answer my questions.
    With Best Regards,
    Rachel Course

  5. March 5, 2009
    Mr. Santos,
    In your article “Prison Reform Should Include Work Release and Study Release”, you indicate that prisoners should be given better opportunities while in prison so they can come back to society as more productive members and will hopefully contribute to a lower recidivism rate. I do agree that prison reform needs to happen soon because California’s prison system is in big trouble right now and the recidivism rate is at 60%. But I do not feel like all non violent offenders should be rewarded with a free education when everyone that goes to college, that is not in prison, has to pay their own way or have the opportunity to earn money and be able to save it. It is a great idea to help the people who are in prison to become better people, so when they are released they will not go back to their old ways and get themselves right back into trouble. But I do think California should find ways for people in prison to better themselves while they are still incarcerated.

    I have a couple of questions for you regarding this article and your education in general. Do you feel even though you have made such great academic achievements you will have a harder time trying to find a job because you have been in prison? Are you going to continue to pursue your PhD once you have been released? In addition, does it irritate you when the prison administrators hassle you about educating yourself? What do they say? Do they want you to only work toward the cases of soda after a soccer tournament as opposed to a college degree? Do you feel if inmates were given the study release or work release program they would take advantage of it and use it to the best of their ability?

    I really appreciate you writing all these articles and helping me out with the questions I have for you. Reading your book and articles really helps me to understand corrections on another level as opposed to just in the classroom. Also, I think it is great that you did use your time in prison in a productive manner by educating yourself. That is great.


  6. Jose Ortiz says:

    March 9, 2009

    Mr. Santos:

    In your article entitled “Prison Reform should Include Work Release and Study Release” you state that you push for prison reform for the good of society and not for personal benefit. I strongly agree with your views because I see prisons as an institution to help criminals, not make them worse. Being that I have a family member that is in prison, I want him to learn from his mistake and try to do something in prison that can help him and society. Also, you mention that with Work Release and Study Release programs, more inmates will be encourage to work towards behaving and not fall into the stereotypical prison life. When California had these types of programs a couple of years ago more inmates were getting educated and actually doing something while in prison. I feel the more opportunities inmates have to change, the better chance that they will not commit crimes when released.

    My question to you is, do you think there should be a certain criteria/rubric of what type of non violent offenders should be eligible for these programs? Being that there are different levels and categories of nonviolent offenders. Also will their criminal background be looked at before admitting them into the programs? Meaning the times they have offended and the serious of the crimes they have committed. Although you push for prison reform from a federal level perspective, do you think that Work Release and Study Release programs will work at a State level? And finally, in the means of helping inmates with new skills and education; what do you suggest be the measures taken to help society understand that these inmates will now have skills to bring to the table?

    Before knowing about your website Mr. Santos I did not know anything like this existed. I enjoyed reading your article and happy to see that you are trying to change and educate people from the inside. This is something you don’t hear about a lot. Hope everything is going good at Taft Camp.


    Jose Ortiz

  7. Nancy Limon says:

    March 12, 2009

    Mr. Santos:

    In the article “Prison Reform Should Include Work-Release and Study-Release,” you give us alternative programs for nonviolent prisoners. Through this form of merit you say that programs like the ones you are proposing will be a benefit to society rather then just having prisoners sit in their cells, play games, and/or feel as if they have nothing to lose. So my questions to you are: First, Do you believe that Career Criminals should be offered this alternative and if so why? Second, What will you say to people that believe offenders know what they are doing when they are doing criminal activities no matter what age they are and should not have any type of merit? Last but not least where do you think the funding for these programs should come from? Finally, I would like to say that I loved your blog and I have shared it with members from La Raza Student Associations de CSULB in which I am part of and we think that your proposal is great and wish you the best.