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By Christopher Zoukis
The American criminal justice system is broken. Wrongdoers go to prison, become hardened by the experience, only to be released and commit additional crimes, thus reentering the criminal justice system. This cycle of crime, punishment, crime, and then back to punishment is often continual, and it is intergenerational, too. According to the latest RAND Corporation/Correctional Education Association study, 43 percent of released prisoners will recidivate within 3 years of their release from prison. While this is in line with several Pew Center on the States’ studies, the Bureau of Justice Statistics actually states that the 3 year recidivism rate is in the 50th percentile. Something clearly needs to be done.
Prisons: The Warehousing of People
While there are many causes for such a high recidivism — or failure — rate, in my mind they all come down to one component: wrongdoers are going to prison and are not being transformed by the experience. This is quite a sad statement considering that the American taxpayers spend tens of thousands of dollars per year to incarcerate each offender. We are essentially paying for the state to house people in concrete and cinderblock rooms, wait the prescribed time, and then release them as the same people they were when they went in in the first place. To call this ineffectual and simpleminded would be a gross understatement.
A Transformational Experience
What is needed is to manufacture a transformational experience for those Americans we incarcerate. We need to come up with some way to change people, not merely warehouse them. The research indicates that prison education, substance abuse and mental health treatment, as well as a structured reintegration plan, will make all the difference in the world. Let’s take each in turn.