Prison Reforms Ought to Include Checklists

By · Saturday, January 10th, 2009

I enjoyed reading an article editors from Time magazine wrote in the issue that celebrated Barack Obama as Person of the Year for 2008. When asked how future voters could judge his performance in years to come, the President-elect offered a simple checklist that voters might consider. When leaders consider prison reforms that will lower recidivism rates and make society safer, perhaps they should consider similar checklists.

As a long-term prisoner, I am convinced that administrators could reduce recidivism rates if they encouraged prisoners to work toward earning freedom through merit. To implement such a system, they would need to identify adjustment patterns that prepare offenders for law-abiding lives best. Prisoners who worked for sustained periods of time toward reconciling with society through merit and through measurable contributions ought to earn gradually increasing levels of freedom.

As prisons currently operate, administrators warehouse prisoners. They punish bad behavior but offer neither guidance nor incentives that would inspire offenders to prepare for law-abiding lives upon release. The policy works fine for the lobbyists who support correctional officer unions and the businesses that service these monstrosities that perpetuate high recidivism rates.

Yet taxpayers fund these human-failure factories with more than $60 billion in expenditures each year. With more than six in every ten people who serve time returning to confinement upon release, taxpayers receive dismal returns on their investment in barbed wire, steel gates, and high walls. Taxpayers need prison reforms that will result in a system that does more than warehouse humanity and condition human failure.

If taxpayers accept prisons that churn out repeating cycles of failure, then this system operates brilliantly. No checklist is necessary if administrators only count the number of calendar pages that turn in order to calculate release dates. Though if taxpayers want prisons that effectively prepare offenders for law-abiding, contributing lives upon release, checklists would prove useful in guiding nonviolent offenders who strive to earn freedom.

The checklist I suggest would include such measurements as:

  1. Have I educated myself by earning academic or vocational credentials?
  2. Have I maintained a prison record that is free of disciplinary misconduct?
  3. Have I worked to build a network of support to help me transition into a law-abiding life?
  4. Have I built resources that will facilitate success upon my release?
  5. Have I made contributions to society?
  6. Have I reached out to reconcile with society?
  7. Have I expressed remorse?

Those offenders who used such a checklist to guide their adjustment would stand far better prepared to overcome the challenges and obstacles that follow release. Prison reforms ought to encourage the use of such objective checklists, and they should offer rewards of increasing levels of freedom to those who measure up well.

Checklists would lower the massive expenditures on prisons by billions. They would lower recidivism rates. They would make society safer. Most importantly, prison reforms that included checklists would demonstrate our country’s commitment to evolving as an enlightened society that values all of its citizens, even the ordinary citizens who languish in prison.

Be Sociable, Share!
Topics: Prison reform · Tags:

Comments are closed.