A New Way Out for Prisoners?
The excellent overview of the trend toward rehabilitation in prisons (“State Is Joining Shift on Prisons,” March 27) still omits two crucial areas where reform is indispensable. Rehabilitation will be limited if there are no meaningful jobs and if police continue the misconduct that antagonizes so many young people. The story quotes an official who says the inefficiencies of rehabilitation programs wouldn’t be tolerated at General Motors. For the record: GM’s bond rating is one notch above junk, according to a news report the same day. Rehabilitation is about helping damaged human beings, not producing machines, and “inefficiencies” should be expected.
The article brilliantly captured the current political mood about our grotesque overuse of incarceration. As one who has worked hard for 30 years to reverse this trend, I celebrate the new direction. But we have a long way to go. It’s in far worse shape than the Humpty Dumpty image would suggest.
Frankenstein is more to the point. This monster destroys. It damages all too many of those locked up, those who work in prisons and the children and other family members of the imprisoned and those who guard them.
It has also sucked billions of general fund dollars from our social services and our state colleges and universities. It is definitely time for a change.
As someone with more than 20 years of experience as a college administrator and teacher in correctional education, I wish Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office luck in pushing for rehabilitation. If reformers are really sincere about helping prisoners become productive citizens, they would push to reinstate Pell grants for college classes, as well as provide meaningful vocational education and realistic (and paid) work experience.
But offering these programs to criminals evokes resentment on the part of many Americans (not least of which are guards and trade union members). Why, they ask, should prisoners get free what hardworking and law-abiding citizens must pay for? Will they be competing for my job after parole? These sentiments have stymied reform efforts for decades.
Robert P. Weiss
Professor of Sociology
and Criminal Justice