First and foremost, in my vision for America, does not believe in private, for profit, prisons. Nor does it believe in the degradation of prisoners. Many will disagree with me, but as I previously stated, many times, my ego does not require an echo chamber. I’ve heard all the arguments against what I am about to propose, and they’re all incorrect (in my opinion). Before we get into my proposal, in fact, let’s start with the arguments.
For years, I’ve heard people say stupid things like “we should make prisons horrible places to make people never want to come back!” What garbage! What on earth makes anyone think they can create, in a prison situation, anything like the same sort of hell on earth a lot of people live in on a daily basis? Sure, you will have some lower recidivism among those of the middle and upper classes that find themselves afoul of the law and caged in cement and metal boxes, but all you do by making the situation worse for people who have only known hell-on-earth, is harden them further.
Punishment is a terrible way to train an animal and an unconscionable way to treat a human – regardless of what atrocities they may have committed against our society. You don’t lower recidivism through punishment. You lower recidivism by giving people better things to live for – hope, opportunity, education, and support. You lower recidivism by giving them reasons to care for things that are bigger than themselves. You lower recidivism by systematically imbuing people with a sense of dignity, self-worth, hope, and the sense of importance in the idea that they can be better people tomorrow than they are today or were yesterday.
It may feel good to treat prisoners badly, but it is counterproductive to our goals as a society – and it is counterproductive to my dream of a nation whose priority is service. I am well aware that we have to take people out of the society sometimes to protect society from them – and indeed to protect them (criminals) from themselves. The worse the offense, the smaller their world should be made.
What I mean by that is this: There is no one size-fits- all solution for prison. If our goal is to serve prisoners in a way that will remake them into law abiding, productive members of our society, then we must first determine the size of the world they can handle. We know, by nature of the fact that they should be removed from society-at-large for a time (or perhaps for all of time), but the size of the world they can handle will vary person to person, depending on both the severity of their crime and a comprehensive analysis of their individual emotional, mental, and psychological states.
In my vision for prisons, cement and metal boxes become more like walled- mini cities. Less dangerous criminals may have full run of the prison, whereas others might be limited to a certain block, building, or room. Prisoners with jobs in the prison would be paid good / valid wages as opposed to slave wages. They would pay taxes, perhaps even rent for private accommodations. They would have valid shopping opportunities within the prison complex. No outside money would be allowed into the prison complex at any point.
Prisoners would be carefully monitored, but given access to create, for themselves, full lives within the confines of the size of the world they are allowed. Accommodations should be better, not worse than what one finds in the inner cities – not because they deserve it, but because we deserve to be the sort of people that value treating people with dignity.
Food should be good and there should be choices. Indeed, there should even be restaurants, providing inmates with choices. Part of each day should be spent in counseling, evaluation, and/or in the pursuit of an educational and vocational training opportunities that can translate into life on the outside for those prisoners who will be rehabilitated back into society or for those for whom prison will be a lifetime experience, opportunities to succeed in the size of the world to which they will remain confined. Choice should be a big deal. How can we expect to teach people to make good choices if we don’t teach them how while they are in our care? When prisoners transition to the outside, they should want to return to the prison as loving and beloved visitors – even volunteers, thankful to counselors that rescued them from the direction they were heading and putting them on a new path of value and lifetime opportunity.
I’m not saying such a dramatic change to our prison system is going to be easy. I’m saying that if the goal is that people who society casts out into prisons change their ways to become valuable members of society upon release, our best chance lies in treating them like so many have never in their whole lives been treated – with respect, care, dignity, and concern, not in throwing them in cement boxes, feeding them substandard food and then dropping them near penniless on street corners and telling them to “behave this next time.” Treat people like garbage and they will return the favor. Treat them with dignity and imbue them with hope, self-esteem, and the skills required to succeed, and the sky will be the limit.