Should prisons focus more on prisoner rehabilitation?


Jacob Pettinger

I have just recently became what I would consider to be an adult, taxes, policies, and the future I wish to see for the United States have all been on my mind. When I see how politicians fight over money and how agencies pine for even the smallest amount of funding I find it confusing how anyone on either side of the spectrum could continue to allow prisons to sap as many resources as they do. With nearly 1.5 million prisoners in the United States each requiring anywhere from 40-60 thousand dollars a year in addition to others expenses to incarcerate, the United states is spending almost 80 billion a year on funding. That is more than enough money to cover a leftist presidents plan to create free college tuition for students, or for a right minded president to expand the defense budget to help protect an additional country. Either side would benefit from reduced spending and yet neither side seems to want to confront the issue at hand. If we all focused on helping out our prison populations by investing in more rehabilitation we could effectively diminish prison population, lower crime and recidivism, and end up with money to spare which could be used elsewhere.

Much of the large prison population is stuck in a loop of repeat offense, incarceration, and early release. Prisons release inmates early to combat overcrowding when they lack the funding necessary to expand the prison, however every other , 1 in 2, prisoner will return within three years as they failed to learn from their experiences in prison (Pitts, Griffin, and Johnson). If we could implement rehabilitative programs to retrain prisoners and remove the need to re-offend then recidivism rates would begin to fall and prison populations would begin to shrink freeing up space for others to take programs. A positive feedback loop that will end the early release of untrained prisoners.

Many inmates also typically have much lower levels of education for their age groups, up to 80% of which have levels of education and literacy consistent with a higher risk of recidivism (Caulfield, Wilson, and Wilkinson 3). low education levels in an inmate all but completely nullifies their opportunities outside of prison in the work force, leading to ‘necessary’ crime (when a crime is committed in order to survive). If given the chance to re-educate themselves it may be possible to prevent crime before it happens. As people train themselves and enter the workforce they no longer have a motivation of poverty to commit crimes.

Critics of rehabilitation for prisoners state that many inmates no longer wish to receive education based programs as it reminds them of the failure of schooling in their past. This is a fair critic to have, many education based reforms are simply not effective enough on their own to justify spending money on them, however including other forms of rehab.

Other alternatives to rehabilitation can lie down the paths of arts, sciences, and religion. All three forms share a commonality. They touch prisoners who might otherwise remain cold and hostile towards training. It has been shown that art and philosophical classes for inmates lowers recidivism rates by training inmates to control outbursts of anger and take control and implement some stability in their lives. Art can be an outlet of emotion for people, and spirituality can be effective at closing gaps between prisoners and the faculty operating the facility. Many spiritual programs can also be taught and subsidized by local religious organizations, third parties, who wish to lend aid to prisoners lower costs for prisons while helping the main recidivism problem.

Still other critics claim that the high cost of rehabilitation prevents it from being an effective means to lowering recidivism. Programs typically are difficult for prisons to implement as they are costly if a prison is already struggling for funding, and one class will not benefit the entire population of prisoners. However these are just short term analysis of the effects of implementing programs.

When viewing the problem of prison population as a whole it makes no sense to look at the small picture, it is completely necessary to analyze the whole population at once. For every tax dollar invested in programs of rehabilitation it has been shown that money is eventually saved for when the prisoners do not return to prison, or at least not in the numbers or as quickly as expected. “The results of their benefit-cost analysis showed that for every dollar invested in TAP, the societal benefit amounted to between $1.40 and $3.30” (McCollister 5). These savings are just generated by looking at the savings of the prisons, It does not take into the account the  possible GDP growth from an untapped market of workers and consumers. Imagine if instead of a prison, the entirety of a prison population was a small town full of marketplaces, schools, shops, neighborhoods, and restaurants. Prisoners are an untapped goldmine of profits for whomever is willing to invest in them.

Inmates are people just like you or I, and they deserve to be treated as such. With a little bit of training and guidance it is possible for many convicts to never again return to their cells. Tackling prison population is the first step at creating a brighter future with low prison population and high productivity from even those who were incarcerated.

Caulfield, Laura S., Dean John Wilkinson, and David Wilson. “Exploring Alternative Terrain In The Rehabilitation And Treatment Of Offenders: Findings From A Prison-Based Music Project.” Journal Of Offender Rehabilitation 55.6 (2016): 396-418. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.

Pitts, James M.A., O. Hayden Griffin, and W. Wesley Johnson. “Contemporary Prison Overcrowding: Short-Term Fixes To A Perpetual Problem.” Contemporary Justice Review 17.1 (2014): 124-139. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Feb. 2017.

McCollister, Kathryn E., et al. “Is In-Prison Treatment Enough? A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis Of Prison-Based Treatment And Aftercare Services For Substance-Abusing Offenders.” Law & Policy 25.1 (2003): 63-82. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Feb. 2017.


2 thoughts on “Should prisons focus more on prisoner rehabilitation?

  1. I believe that this is the right path to take towards prisoners. Trying to help out a person who has landed in prison is the best thing we can do for them so that they don’t fall back into their old habits and can become a contributing member of society again.

  2. I agree with your stance. Overcrowding is becoming a serious problem now but rehabilitation programs to reduce repeat offenders decreases the prisoner population. I believe this would help the problem. Very interesting article and visual.

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