Prisons were created to punsih, deter, and rehabilitate

Owens, Michael L.



Prisons were created to punish, deter, and rehabilitate, Presumibly, society holds rehabilitation as the most important of these functions because it is the only, one of them able to prevent future offenses. Even here in California, homeof the nation's most dysfunctional prison system, administrations have begun bending policy in a more rehabilitative direction. Providing reentry programs to a small number of inmates at select prisons has at last become a priority. Though far too limited in scope, these programs are an encouraging gesture on an otherwise bleak landscape. CHANGING THE CULTURE Prison has its own culture, one comprised of - accepted philosophies, activities, and unwritten morality codes understood by those who live and work behind the wall. Prison culture is about cops vs cons, it's about gang recruitment and voluntary racial segregation. It's about the black market and yard politics, it's about the criminal caste system. These are therparameters of prison culture. Rehabilitation programming will not see wider successes until environments are created in which a new prison culture can replace the old. WHY SO FEW PRISONERS CHOOSE CHANGE Society expects, and rightly so, that any prisoners claiming to possess even a shred of decency take the onus upon themselves to work toward thier own rehabilitation. As one of the California prisoners who have done exactly that, I'm left wondering in society is aware of what it means to be rehabilitated, yet still condemned to prison? I wonder hbwtthe public would respond if they knew that the biggest factor in prisoner resistance to rehabilitative programming was the surety of having to serve tougher, more dangerous time? By definition, we the rehabilitated are no longer a recognized part of prison culture. Our only connections of any depth are amongst ourselves. We are distrusted, disliked, and largely shunned by other prisoners and correctional officers alike. We are judged as foils by the former and fakers by the latter. Achieving rehabilitation during the course of one's sentence does not make one immune to the toxic soup of the prison environment. Most often, the opposite proves true. Those who make the decision to sincerely pursue rehabilitation are among the most vulnerable groups found in prison. Having rejected gang association and the protection that comes along with it, we become easy targets for the predatory groups that need have little fear of repercussion. Those who run the prison underworld, and the officers who enable them, suspect us as likely informants simply because we abstain from the usual prison vices. In the violent, chaotic world of incarceration, not many inmates are looking to volutarily place themselves in harm's way, especially for something as ideologically elusive as rehabilitation. THE EYES OF THE UNDECIDED Those prisoners who have yet to commit to involvement in prison gang membership are watching those of us who have chosen rehabilitation.TThey see that despite being consistent examples of high moral character, the rehabilitated remain subject to the exact same conditions as the unrepentent. And the unrepentent are acutely aware of it. They understand very cleary that to renounce the culture is to disassoc- iate and thereafter have less influence over the quality of thier life. Prime job assignments, choice of cellmate, all the little things that go into determining if you do hard or easy time, all depend on your connections. Not many are willing to surrender that small amount of control in a place the strips you of almpst all control. Who would choose that? In many ways, choosing to become one of the rehabili- tated is to become subject to a sadistic experience. I've seen men on the path to rehabilitation make that discovery and turn back. I've seen the cruelty of prison create a better criminal. All of this, of course, doesn't mean that our efforts to encourage inmates to rehabilitate are futile. However, we can do better. This is how: 1.Let the rehabilitated have a say. Those who have been able to successfully make the transition from out of the criminal mentality deserve a seat at the table of this discussion. Who better to speak of which changes would help make the prison environment more condusive to the personal growth of its inmate population. This is a low/no cost way to improve rehabilitative programming. Prisoners who have taken the onus on themselves to rehabilitate are prisoner reform subject matter experts, and yet are a totally disregarded resource. 2.Create more Prison Honor Programs (PHPS). With the help of an open-minded administration, and some forward thinking staff volunteers, inmates at CSP Lancaster created the state's first and only Honor Yard. On this honor yard inmates voluntarily renounced gang and racial politics, agreed to abstain from drugs and violence, and committed themselves to deep personal transformation. The results? An 88% decrease in weapons related offenses, and an 85% decrease in violence. The Lancaster PHP can and should be replicated at more prisons. 3.Individualization. Mandatory minimum sentencing affects a prisoner's desire to rehabilitate greatly. It destroys the notion of having any real personal power over the quality of one's future. Criminologists have long held that clear parameters of punishment and reward are the foundation of behavior modification. Prisoners who can clearly see that they possess the power to better thier circumstances by bettering themselves become highly motivated to do so. Mandatory minimums lead to a.certain kind of mentality among the inmate population: "What good is it to follow the rules now"? and "I'll change when I get out." At the heart of this mentality is the belief that their conduct has no bearing on thier future. Doing away with Mandatory minimums would immediately accomplish some of the things which should be top correctional priorities anyway: It inspires inmates to take responsibility for thier past actions, and connects thier current behavior to the quality of thier immediate futures. It rightly punishes those who refuse to participate in rehabilitative programs with longer sentences. It reduces the overcrowded inmate population and the financial burden of the unnecessary incar-a ceration of those who have proven themselves rehabilitated. And it inspires those inmates just coming into the system to make programming decions that are in thier own best self-interest. A NEW PERSPECTIVE Prisons will not change until the way we think about prisons change. Our country's prisons are not just the dumping ground for our nation's offenders. Prisons are, in a very real way, the psychic repository for our hatreds and shames; the place we can dump all of our loathing for what We find despicable in ourselves. By now most of us are aware that the U.S. is the leading incarceratorof all time. We must somehow come to see our prisons as places to confront and heal our demons, instead of warehouse in which to hide them.

Author: Owens, Michael L.

Author Location: California

Date: June 22, 2017

Genre: Essay

Extent: 4 pages

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