Prison Reforms Should Bring Transparency to the Prison System

By · Thursday, January 1st, 2009

In a recent Newsweek magazine, an author published an article that offered President-elect Obama some advice. The author suggested that our new President should look much deeper for information on American life. Presidents error, the author said, when they rely primarily on policy wonks and insiders. Instead of relying on the experts alone, the author suggested that President Obama should gather information from ordinary Americans as well. I agree.

As a long-term prisoner, I am hopeful that prison reforms will be among the many changes coming to Washington. When considering the changes to bring, President Obama and the leaders he appoints ought to look much deeper than the propaganda that those who represent the prison industrial complex like to feed. I’ve been in prison for my entire adult life, and I’ve watched in dismay on many occasions when administrators have led distinguished tour groups through these prisons. Without exception, administrators always assigned correctional officers to walk in front and behind the tour groups to ensure that those walking through the tour would not be disturbed with any inmate interactions. My hopes are that under President Obama’s leadership, these prisons will become more transparent.

Prisons are like the dark secret in America. More than 2.3 million people live isolated from society in these institutions that cost taxpayers upwards of $60 billion each year. Statistics show that more than 1 in every 100 people in America lives in prison; for some minority populations the ratio is more than ten times as high. The prison system releases more than 650,000 people each year, and of all those people, more than six in ten return to prison for one reason or another within five years. Some might suggest these institutions expertly churn out failure, or that they represent a failed public policy.

In determining what types of reforms to bring, those who review these institutions ought to listen to prisoners. During my long journey through the prison system, I’ve made a study of these institutions. I feel confident that with what I have learned from the hundreds of other prisoners whom I’ve interviewed, together with my 21 years of personal prison experiences, I am well qualified to suggest prison reforms that would reduce recidivisms rates and make American communities safer.

The primary reform that needs to take place is that prison administrators need to offer opportunities for those in prison to reconcile with society and earn their freedom. By extinguishing hope, prisons fail the American people. Those who serve time become more alienated from their families and communities. They lack opportunities to learn new skills or develop resources that will help them transition into society upon release as law-abiding, contributing citizens. These existing policies that perpetuate the prison system while creating a permanent underclass in America have turned these institutions into contemporary vestiges of slavery. We need prison reforms to shed light on America’s ugly prison system that incarcerates millions.

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