Why Should We Change our Prison System?
In August I wrote about some of the weaknesses of our present prison system which basically reflects the attitude of our Criminal Justice System that those who have committed a crime or even seem guilty of an offense, often because of their color, demeanor, and/or circumstances, should be dismissed and punished. Many authority figures in the system seem to treat these individuals without respect or concern. Having worked with men, primarily, in several county jails, I have witnessed firsthand the prison system and its negative impact on already stressed inmates and ex-offenders, who for the most part, from what I have observed, love their children, do not want to return to jail, and desire to improve their lives. I have met many who are smart and very caring, often getting in trouble for wanting to protect weaker men from those who are more aggressive and controlling.
These individuals often come from very difficult home situations, suffering abuse and/or neglect from parents as well as other caregivers, leaving them with low self-esteem and lack of confidence. These self-defeating attitudes along with limited education and resources lead them to others with negative thought and behavior patterns. Before long, desperation and alienation drive these people to commit criminal acts as a way to survive and/or gain control of their vulnerability and insecure lives. Should they be doomed forever to these negative thought and behavior patterns? Should we discard them, locking them away in uncomfortable quarters and treat them as despicable creatures, unworthy of care, attention or respect? Should we continue to knowingly release them with little hope of succeeding on the outside after being broken even further by the prison system; or maybe we should expect to house them forever and continue to build more and more prisons?
I think not, and hopefully, more and more citizens will realize that we cannot begin to feel safe and secure, nor can we prosper as a society as long as we release former inmates back to where they came from, further stigmatized and traumatized by a system that abuses them and continues to restrict their activities as well as limit their possibilities for change and success in the world beyond prison walls. A more restorative prison system can effect change in those who enter the system to become more positive and productive while serving time, learning new ways of thinking and behaving which will also serve them more constructively after leaving the correction system. What does a more restorative system look like?