Why Don’t More Prisoners Take Advantage of Improvement Programs?

By · Monday, November 10th, 2008

America is a magnificent country because it inspires hope in all of its citizens. Anyone who applies effort and works toward excellence can succeed. Every American has the power within to reach meaningful goals. Those who live in prison, on the other hand, struggle through constraints that are much more like communism than the society that most Americans take for granted.

In prison, everyone receives the same treatment. Instead of serving the state, as in most communist systems, prisoners serve the institution. The institution provides each prisoner with clothing, food, and shelter. The institution assigns jobs according to institutional need. Although many opportunities exist for a prisoner to create more problems for himself, the system does not provide a mechanism that allows or encourages the prisoner to distinguish himself in a positive way. Prisons extinguish hope. That is why so few prisoners take advantage of improvement programs.

During the more than 21 years that I have served in prisons of every security level, I have worked hard to prepare for a law abiding, contributing life upon release. I have educated myself, earning an undergraduate degree in Human Resources from Mercer University and an Interdisciplinary graduate degree from Hofstra University. I have published several books that describe prisons, the people they hold, and strategies for growing through confinement. Some might reason that the prison system has encouraged my growth. Yet that has not been the case. Prison administrators have obstructed my efforts to prepare for a law-abiding life upon release. For example, a warden blocked me from completing a program at the University of Connecticut that would have resulted in a Ph.D.

Wardens have denied professors and other mentors from coming to visit me. Administrators have blocked my access to interact with the media and other groups that would expand my network of support. Instead of feeling as though I have a resource in the system of corrections, I feel as if I have an adversary that suppresses efforts I make to prepare for the challenges that will await my release.

Prison administrators would serve taxpayers much more effectively if they governed prisons through the use of incentives. Instead of extinguishing hope and relying on only punitive measures, they ought to establish policies that will encourage inmates to work toward earning freedom. As policies currently stand, the inmate who spends his time hustling or watching television or playing table games is categorized the same as the prisoner who works every day to reconcile with society. As a consequence of such myopic policies, recidivism rates exceed 60 percent, and prison budgets exceed $60 billion each year.

Rather than modeling prisons after the failed policies of communism, administrators and legislators ought to inspire hope and encourage prisoners to work toward excellence. Since they control the infrastructure of the prison, they ought to use incentives to persuade offenders to participate in programs that will help them emerge as law-abiding and contributing citizens.

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One Response to “Why Don’t More Prisoners Take Advantage of Improvement Programs?”

  1. Sean Katz says:

    Dear Mr. Santos:
    I am writing as an assignment for Dr. Torres’ Corrections class at Cal State long Beach.
    I have a couple comments/questions or your article entitled, “Why Don’t More Prisoners Take Advantage of Improvement Programs?”. I apologize in advance for my ignorance of the federal prison system and look to you for your knowledge. First, i want to bring up how you think of prisons as a communist establishment in regards to how the jobs serve the institution.
    I ask what kind of jobs do you suggest would switch prison from a communist depiction and possibly help prisoners distinguish themselves? I mean it is my perception that having prisoners do the institutions’ work, it would be a cost effective way to save part of that 60 billion dollar prison cost you speak of so frequently. How does keeping prisoners out of further trouble by making them do work on the prison they are in such a bad avenue for a positive experience?
    Also, I am confused at your comment that prison has not encouraged your growth. It appears to me that if you were able to attain multiple degrees (which I commend you for), write books and better yourself, that prison has indeed encouraged growth of some kind. In other words, I feel that you have positive goals and have been on the right path to make your way through your term. As a result, along the way, you have indeed received better opportunities within the system than those hustling and watching television, is that a fair assessment? If so, then prison is not treating everyone the same and if you work hard you get incentives/benefits of being able to do the things you have done. In addition, could you possibly entertain the idea that maybe you feel you have earned the right to have typewriters used for purposes other than for court purposes, have access to the internet, and get visits from classes like mine? I would guess that prisoners who play cards and hustle do not get most of those benefits or progressive measures?
    Thank you for your time and response to my inquiry. Good luck with the rest of your sentence!