Jonny and I have collaborated on this topic. We both believe and have seen evidence that education and rehabilitation works. We, in this country have allowed prisons to become warehouses for human lives. They are called the Department of Corrections. We should hold them to that statement. If we invested a portion of our prison budgets to rehabilitation programs education and re-entry programs we could change the life of an individual, a family and the impact that person will have in our communities. It would also stop the revolving door and help to break the cycle, in families, of incarceration. My question has always been, why do we send these young people to prison without a plan for their return to our communities? Why is it that we expect them to be a changed person upon leaving prison when we have done nothing to encourage or influence that change during their incarceration? Why do we continue to operate our prison and corrections facilities the same way, year after year, with the same inadequate results? In our state (Colorado), you are required, upon entering the department of corrections, to complete the GED program. The original intake process also evaluates the other types of programs that would be useful for the offender to take. For my son, one of the programs was Anger Management. Quite honestly, every offender entering the system should be required to take this program. You are pretty angry after being sentenced to prison. Of course it would do no good to require it for all offenders because at the facilities where my son has been housed, the program is not offered! Out of 3 facilities, which all house offenders with long prison terms, not one facility offered the anger management course. To expect education and rehabilitation, when the most basic of treatment is not available, is an impossibility. But is it true that education and rehabilitation work? Read on.....
From Jonny: Our system is irrational. The early 90's and late 80's crime wave and gang uprising made a sensational story and many monsters (and much fear) was created out of it. So the guy (DA) who could put a monster down for life was a hero, and everyone wants to be a hero, so that became the new agenda. The problem is that they strayed from the path of what prison was created for, reformation for those who can be changed and death for those who can't. Now it's frowned upon to actually use the words "death penalty" (except in extreme cases) but life without parole (long and tortured death) is accepted as humane. That is because society doesn't actually put a needle in our arm but either way ......it's death.
We need to get back to using death sentences (life without parole or LWOP) in only extreme cases and allow for rehabilitation for the rest. DA's act on public opinion. If society cried out "No! This is wrong!" they would stop but society is not face to face with the issues. They are spoon fed fear. Look at the news, it is designed to instill fear and bring about panic. A panicked person rarely makes a rational decision, so society as a whole doesn't cry out that this is wrong. There is a reason justice is represented by a scale, it has to be balanced and right now it is out of balance....bad. A wrong must be punished but the punishment must be just. our system needs to be redesigned to rehabilitate and it actually needs to perform the function! There needs to be an extensive standard and program to go through in order to be officially rehabilitated. There needs to be classes and goals placed in front of the offender. While a numerical number must be placed (in terms of sentence) it must coincide with the maximum projected time it would take to rehabilitate the average offender who committs that act.
Education is the greatest tool against crime, in my opinion. It helps in so many ways. The sentence should be a worst case scenario for instance if you get a 4 year sentence, you will do the entire 4 years only if you do not complete any of the programs. Each program must carry a certain amount of time reduced from your sentence as a guarantee. The schedule and amount of classes must be enough to teach the offender new skills and keep him locked up long enough to deter returning. Everything must balance. While this may seem entirely optimistic to us, let me assure you that this model of rehabilitation and education are used with great success in other countries. in Germany, for instance, their entire prison system is based on education and reform. They do not hold people in prison for long periods of time and while they are in prison they are required to engage in programs to change their destructive and dysfunctional behavior.
Here in this country we have an interesting test program, if you will. San Quentin Prison University Program. This program is taught by 3000 volunteers, professors and educators from local universities. The inmates are able to receive an Associate of Arts degree. It is changing the prison climate and the future of many men. Isn't education and a productive person a better option that throwing away people in human warehouses?
Jonny and Bonnie
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