Prisons Fail to Prepare Prisoners for Society
A noted historian named David Rothman wrote in his book, Asylums that prisons were total institutions. Those of us who live in prisons must function within the rules and policies that prison administrators set. Prisoners do not necessarily abide by all of the rules and policies, though they must function within them.
For example, prison administrators determine what clothing an inmate may wear and how much clothing he may possess. They determine what the prisoner may eat and how much. They determine where a prisoner will sleep and with whom he will share space. Administrators set rules that determine the structure of every prisoner’s day. They establish a disciplinary code to punish prisoners who violate the rules. One thing missing from the prisons where I have been confined since 1987 was an incentive system that would encourage inmates to reform their ways and prepare for law-abiding lives upon release.
One of the consequences that follow the institutional atmosphere is that prisoners lose a sense of efficacy. They do not strive to prepare for the challenges that follow release because administrative practices discourage growth on meaningful levels. Those who run the prison strive to maintain security in the institution, that means keeping it running smoothly, without disruptions. The policies are designed well to cope with gang problems, with contraband, with corruption and violations of rules.
They are not so well equipped to function with individuals who are striving to build bridges to society or expand their networks of support. Prisons are designed to confine, to extinguish individuality. That does not result in a good return on taxpayer investments in these costly institutions, as the high recidivism rates suggest.
During the more than 21 years that I have served, I have worked hard to build a record that would demonstrate the need for prison reform. My work required that I educate myself, keep a clean disciplinary record, and interact with others so that I could write vivid descriptions of the prison system and why it fails to bring about positive change. I interacted and learned from many of the men with whom I served time. Those interactions put me into contact with prison gang leaders, organized crime figures, and white collar offenders. My fellow prisoners share their stories with me because they know that I write with hopes of bringing about change that will improve society and our lives as prisoners.
By extinguishing hope, I am convinced that prisons breed violence and continuing cycles of failure. They fail to make society safer, as more than 600,000 people are released from prison every year, and those individuals lack the preparation they need to function as law-abiding, contributing citizens. If administrators were to change their policies and implement incentives that would encourage inmates to earn their freedom, I am certain that more prisoners would adjust in positive ways. I’ve written about the work I have done to lead me to such conclusions in my books, and in articles available at www.criminal-indictment.com.