Prison System us Prisons Recidivism

The US prison system was purportedly designed to rehabilitate and reform criminals, allowing them to pay their debt to society, serve their time, and then return to society as a productive member. Unfortunately, the recidivism rate (the rate at which criminals repeat their previous actions) is a staggering 67%. This number represents those who are re-arrested within three years of their release, with 52% re-incarcerated.

At a yearly cost to taxpayers of $60 BILLION dollars, it seems that enough money is pumped into the system to achieve the goal of reforming those who pass through its gates. Think of the most notorious criminals-Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and lesser-known members of the crime fraternity. Calculate how many millions of dollars are spent over their lifespan for clothing, food, medical care, housing, transportation, etc. Some prisoners, due to either their notoriety or their crime (such as child molesters) require special arrangements to insure their personal safety. Gang members must also be housed separately from rival gang members.

Obviously, throwing money at the problem is not a solution. Many other factors weigh in to bear how the system succeeds or fails. First, look at the people going into the system. Many of these prisoners committed crimes while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Many came from abusive, broken homes and never had opportunities to better themselves. Many purposely chose the easy way out, stealing what they wanted instead of getting a job and working for it. If someone just doesn’t care, you can’t make them reform and want to be a good member of society.

Gang crime, due to drug trafficking is on the rise all over the country. Gang members have the pack/herd mentality; that they must be part of a group and will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. Few gang members rehab and rejoin society. Even if they wanted to, gang members know that they are a brother for life. To turn their back on the gang is guaranteed death.

Some criminals are the untreated mentally ill. As a nurse, I have seen my share of psychiatric patients, who are capable of criminal actions and simply cannot understand the difference between right and wrong due to mental and cognitive limitations. There are those who are criminally insane, unable to comprehend rules and order and expected behaviors of society, and those who would be treatable, with proper medication, counseling, and other interventions.

Another issue working against the system is its employees. Not every employee of the prisons and jails are honest. After all, these jobs tend to offer low pay compared to the high risk of the environment that a prison guard or warden is subjected to. Little wonder that a few unscrupulous ones choose to supplement thier income by providing prisoners with weapons, drugs, and other contraband.

Last, it must be taken into consideration that prison is an excellent breeding ground for inmates to hone their craft. Years ago, I was a prison penpal to several prisoners across the US who were in for a variety of crimes. I was curious to see what made them tick. Most of them gladly shared their stories-what their homelife was like, what crimes they committed, how they were caught, and yes, how they knew how to work the system, punch its card, and bide their time until they were eligible for release.

Too often, our prisons fail to rehab, instead, producing “new and improved” criminals, with more connections and information on how to continue on the path of crime.