Prison Reform Needed in the United States of America.
Prisoners are isolated from the outside world and their communication with same is severely restricted. Isn’t that a kind of conceptual oxymoron? At the very least, it is damnable paradoxical. Since an unchecked egotism and a resulting self-absorption were what made up the criminal’s criminality in the first place, how does cutting off his contact with others and the resulting reinforcement of his psychic isolation do anything good for him/her at all? Here are three quick points re prison reform…
Dishonesty and democracy
Those behind bars are dishonest, or so the popular wisdom goes. If so, then the redemption of character should be the first duty of those who are responsible for their rehabilitation. Of course, this is much easier said than done. An ethical question that comes to mind is the relative rights of criminal and injured party and society as a whole. To what extent may society incapacitate the criminal from doing further harm? Is brain surgery permissible; the kind that removes areas of the brain that engender hostility and anti-social behavior? The only justification of this policy in a democratic society is the overwhelming importance of free will. If one is responsible for his actions, then actions that harm others, if sufficiently destructive, warrant the prevention of further such actions if by doing so the greatest good for the greatest number will be achieved. If we know better, and choose to do worse, then do we not thereby forfeit the right to make further choices to do bad?
Rehabilitation…science or shot in the dark?
It may be that the ideal is to provide extensive psychiatric treatment or other forms of professional rehabilitative therapy for inmates on a one-to-one basis. For whatever reason – whether it is because this would be too expensive or because of some other reason – this is not standard policy at the present time. It is in the best interest of society at large to rehabilitate inmates so that they do not cause any more harm to life, limb or property after release. Studies have shown that this is particularly true in the area of drug addiction. It is much less expensive and much more effective to offer drug addicts counseling and rehabilitative services than to lock them up and throw away the key.
Long Term Incarceration
The Reverend Ray, the pastor who counseled several members of the notorious Charles Manson family in the United States after their conviction, made some very good points about modern penology. He said that long term incarceration is a recent phenomenon and not a very smart one. A young man who commits his first crime may be locked up with “lifers,” who have no place to go and nothing to lose. They often make their prisons into schools for crime so that the still-redeemable youth who has been convicted for the first time has a willing tutor in crime as a cell mate. This is self defeating, as the (ostensible) reason for incarcerating the wayward youth in the first place was – at least in part – to “cure” him of his criminal ways!