Long Prison Terms with No Treatment Amounts to Warehousing
It’s irritating to read that paroling prison inmates is ineffective. The National Institute of Justice studied a group of more than 400,000 inmates from 30 states after their release in 2005. The statistics (published in 2014) are sobering: more than 75 percent of that group were rearrested within five years.
But here’s the thing. The statistic alone sends a message that there is no hope for felons to change their behavior. It reinforces a bias held by many lawmakers and politicians who favor longer term sentences. What the statistics don’t tell you is that it is prison that is ineffective. And the solution to prison ineffectiveness is not more warehousing.
The researchers in the study also said that “although offender services and programs may have a direct effect on desistance, individuals must decide independently to transform themselves into ex-offenders.” It’s not rocket science to imagine how programs and services do help. In my experience, inmate exposure to education and new skills dramatically improves their self esteem and sense of hope about the future.
In fact, another study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Corrections found that just having visitors while in prison reduced recidivism later. The researchers said that “revising prison visitation policies to make them more ‘visitor friendly’ could yield public safety benefits by helping offenders establish a continuum of social support from prison to the community.” Again, this ought to be common knowledge, for anyone who was raised in a family, or who has raised children or pets themselves. Somehow, many legislators and prison managers never got the memo.
One final point. When people recidivate, what are they rearrested for? Petty stuff, usually. Like “absconding,” which means not showing up for an appointment with your parole officer. Or drinking alcohol or doing drugs. Remember, parole is for those who have committed serious crimes, murder, rape and so forth. I think there are better ways to deal with those recurrent incidents without sending a person back to prison.
And, specifically about sex offenders, they recidivate at a lower rate than other criminals, for any kind of crimes. But again, why send a sex offender back to prison for a petty infraction? There are no sex offender treatment programs in prison, and there are lots better uses of available programs, including sex offender treatment, in the community.