Imprisonment as it is understood today has been used to control criminal activity for thousands of years. This system has gone through changes, including the addition of the court systems and the gradual updating of security and facilities. However, there is still room for much reform. The prison system in the U.S. is outdated and, in some aspects, inhumane. Among the multitude of issues in the prison system is the lack of effective rehabilitation strategies for those who are placed behind bars.
Once released from jail, offenders must find means for supporting themselves. Some are incarcerated for a short amount of time, others are released a decade after they commit a crime. Without rehabilitation resources being made available to those in jail, it is hard for former criminals to find a way of life different than the one that led to their jail time. While this is not an excuse to return to a life of crime, the attitude towards criminals needs a shift. The main goal of the prison system can currently be interpreted as justice driven; punishment first, possible change later. Instead, it should be future focused: take them off the streets and work to better their knowledge and work qualifications.
This in no way criticizes the way that the criminal law system is run. Those who act in a criminal manner have no place among the citizens who choose otherwise. Those who choose to break the law choose to be punished to the full extent of the law. Those who hurt others should be punished in a way that makes it clear that violence will not be tolerated. However, those who break the law are not to be given up on. They are to be encouraged; they are to be taught; they are to be treated as humans.
The prison population has increased by 500 percent since the 1970s, according to Trends in U.S. Corrections. An estimated 2.3 million people were placed in prison and jail, with 3.8 million out on parole or serving probation. This influx of returning citizens requires a set of real-world skills, especially in an already competitive job market.
An estimated 70 percent of inmates are illiterate, according to Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, and access to reading materials is becoming more restricted. Jails and prisons used to have access to the GED and other educational resources, with four-fifths of jails offering the GED in 1996, according to an article titled “Correctional Programs in the United States.” Budget cuts have greatly impacted opportunities for education since then.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is currently planning to cut $250 million from the operating budget in 2018. This cut is what was set as a “starting point” by former House Speaker Joe Straus, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in June 2016, as stated by the Texas Tribune. Other states are making similar cuts, including California, where $250 million was cut from rehabilitation services, which is 40 percent of the state’s current rehabilitation budget.
To continue working toward rehabilitation despite these changes, California state officials claim that they will use their resources more effectively by having inmates take programs for shorter amounts of time, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. However, shortening the length of programs will most likely shorten the effects of the programs and might leave prisoners without a full understanding of the education they receive, wasting both the prisoner’s and the money spent on an expedited course.
This does not mean that the programs should be cut entirely, but instead that more of a focus should go to the extension of course length and a continuation of education in prison systems. How this continuation is implemented, whether through a shift in the overall budget or in the operations of the educators of the prison, is up to the governance of the prison.
In order to attract the attention of those in the position to change policy and budget the citizens must show that they desire a change in the prison system. The millions of people in prison have the right to be given education and a chance to make the right decisions. Encouraging education and rehabilitation in prisons offers not only a wave encouragement for those behind bars, but also the possibility of lessened crime in the country.