Should Prisoner Rehabilitation Programs be Intoduced to American Prisons

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When the prison door slams behind an inmate, it does not mean they lose their basic human rights; the human quality is not locked away. Prisons are necessary to protect and keep society safe, without them the strong would feel no threat when they prey on the weak.

However, America fails to intelligently use its prisons. Federal and State prisons in the United States should have rehabilitation programs for prisoners to encourage their reintegration into society. Simply imprisoning criminals without this resource often leads to higher rates of recidivism, thus harming both the offenders and potentially endangering society. The prison systems in America are broken and today they hold more than 2. 3 million people; locking up more people, per capita, than any other nation (Rabuy). The justice system should do more to rehabilitate prisoners because of the steadily increasing rates of incarceration in America.

The concept of imprisonment implies deprivation and regulates prisoner’s freedoms (Rehabilitative Effects of Imprisonment). Additionally, they are intended to rehabilitate prisoners, yet research has shown that time spent behind bars does not effectively rehabilitate inmates. The majority of prisoners become recidivists almost immediately. Without the proper guidance and help they are likely to be rearrested within three years after their release (Rehabilitative Effects of Imprisonment). Until the mid-1970s, prisoners were encouraged to resolve psychological problems and develop occupational skills (Benson). Unfortunately, prisons in the United States have taken a “get tough” measure that increases the probability of a conviction and amount of time sentenced. America has answered crime by putting more criminals behind bars for a longer period however, this has only become more costly and has not resolved the problem of recidivism (Petersilia). Furthermore, many prisoners who spend time behind bars may also be pushed further towards a life of crime by learning from their fellow inmates. Harsher prison policies are creating more criminals and are counterproductive to the purpose of helping correct prisoners and transition them from a life locked away back into society. Prisons are essential for the safety of the communities in America but are simultaneously harming our society.

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One of the main causes of crime is poverty, “over-reliance on locking people up has an especially malign effect on poor urban neighborhoods. . . up to 20 percent of the male population may be behind bars at any given time” (Petersilia). Additionally, the likelihood of employment is decreased for former inmates to find jobs after their release and the trend continues in cycles with no opportunity for prisoners or their families to escape. Numerous lives are affected by the criminal justice system in America “every year, 641, 000 people walk out [of prisons]”, yet over 11 million people are cycled through prisons each year (Rabuy). Most criminal justice or correctional systems emphasize punishment which can be detrimental to inmates’ mental health. Furthermore, the focus on punishment does not effectively deter inmates from repeating the offense because they do not have the skills or mental treatment necessary to find jobs. Making it increasingly difficult for released prisoners to provide for themselves and their families after enduring isolation from society, which in turn can negatively impact families who have to suffer from economic strain and psychological torment. “Inmates may leave prison worse off than when they arrived, which can be detrimental to communities and society as a whole” (Deady).

Prisons should be used as tools to rehabilitate not create more crime. When properly implemented, work programs, community involvement, psychotherapy, and education can help prisoners transition into society. Several Scandinavian countries have proved to be successful in the incarceration process with the lowest percentage of recidivism, where the focus is on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Research has shown that when offenders are treated as human beings, with their basic rights, and are given the opportunity to change their criminal behavior, citizens are protected and rates of recidivism dramatically decrease (Petersilia). The benefits of rehabilitation services are demonstrated in Norwegian prisons where the concept of “Restorative justice [which] is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior” is advocated (Tutorial: Introduction to Restorative Justice). Compared to the United States, Norway has relatively low levels of crime and “one of the lowest rates of recidivism in the world” (Overall Crime and Safety Situation).

Countries such as Norway, Poland, Lithuania, and the Netherlands take alternative approaches to punishment by shifting the focus towards rehabilitation and have successfully prevented high rates of recidivism (Deady). If the United States followed the criminal justice systems in Norway and other Scandinavian countries, then the prospects of recidivism will decrease. Community-based treatment would allow inmates to connect with the general public and ease their reintegration into society. “One example of this is the “Boston Reentry Initiative (BRI). . . where local law enforcement, social services, and religious institutions work together to rehabilitate inmates” (Petersilia). Treating prisoners humanely with “the exception of freedom of movement…[and making] life inside prisons as similar to life on the outside” will also contribute to their reintegration (Deady).

Correctional facilities should provide work programs, education, and treatment of mental illness, to reduce the rates of recidivism and the population of prisoners. Ultimately, the United States should implement reforms for prisoners on both Federal and State levels to reduce rates of recidivism, incarceration, and furthermore, to encourage their reintegration into society. Prisons are necessary to keep society safe however, they can also be used as tools to rehabilitate inmates and provide them with the skills they need in order to function in society. Effective rehabilitation programs will benefit both inmates and society in general.

The goal of correctional facilities in America should be to make prisoners better citizens. The American criminal justice system can be repaired, it will not remain broken.

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