As a former corrections officer with the Arizona Department of Corrections, I was assigned to a medium security facility at Perryville Prison in Goodyear. The inmate population was quite diverse, with convictions from DUI’s to murderers that been released from death row by way of their appeals.
The unit that I was on was divided into four yards, and the prisoners had open access from one to another. The less desirable convicts were housed in my yard, while the newbies (or “fish”) were in the farthest one down. Nonetheless, I want to remind you, that these were open yards.
When an inmate was brought in they were required to go through a two-week orientation. This was basically to accustom them to the prison system and allow them time to adjust. The “adjustment” primarily meant that they had no contact with the outside for two weeks. Once the time period was up they were dispersed into the arena with the hardened criminals. While D.O.C was very careful not to house anyone together of a different race, they thought nothing of releasing these new offenders into a population of contemptuous convicts.
One young man entered the system on a drug offense. After a year of being locked up he had joined a gang, covered himself in tattoos, and was known to be one of the most profitable dealers on the yard. Oh yes, there are more drugs on a prison yard than there are on the street; or maybe, just easier to obtain.
If an inmate prefers not to work they are simply added to the indigent list. The state will provide then with funds every month to buy their toothpaste and soap while they lounge in their “house” and watch television. Oh, yeah, those are allowed, too.
I was told that Perryville had a school. While I did view an empty room, I never saw any activity going on inside of it. There was a library, but it was used primarily for the purpose of legal research for appeals and suits against the state.
The one thing that they never taught in the academy was respect, and there’s nothing more power-happy than a person in uniform. I watched officers constantly torment inmates, and one officer from my graduating class was even stabbed and killed. I found (in every instance) that if I gave respect, I got respect.
Prisons have no structure with which to prepare the criminal for a return to the outside, and the term “rehabilitation” sends me into a tailspin. Prisons breed criminals, pure and simple. Changes need to be made at a state and federal level to assure the safety of the public when these felons are released.
While at the academy, I saw officers pass through that never should have. I also saw some extremely good candidates that never made it through. Their screening program, as well as their training, needs a complete overhaul.
Inmates need to be housed according to their classification. An eighteen-year-old that got busted with a couple of joints can be truly intrigued by some guy that held up a liquor store.
Inmates have too much time on their hands, and far too much time to think. Everyone incarcerated should be required to either work or go to school. Where does the money come from for teachers and supplies? The inmates! Florence Prison in Arizona has an outlet store that sells arts and craft made by inmates. They are there as a form of punishment, not to become entrepreneurs.
You take an alcoholic or a drug addict and return them to the street and they are still an alcoholic and a drug addict. There needs to be AA/NA programs set up at every facility to help these people obtain and maintain sobriety.
It is estimated that 16.2% of the prison population have some form of mental illness, yet not one of them is being treated for it. While this would be costly, it is even more costly to ignore it.
The United States currently has 2.3 million people incarcerated, many of which will (someday) be returned to the streets. If nothing is done to rehabilitate these prisoners, the likelihood of repeat offenses is too great to comprehend.