|Barriers to Prison Reform|
|By John Dewar Gleissner, Esq|
A leading barrier to prison reform is lack of awareness. Most do not realize the American correctional population has reached ruinous levels, 7.3 million people. Prisons and prisoners are out of sight and out of the public's mind. Issues out of the public's mind tend to be of little concern to lawmakers. Few really know or appreciate the problems prisons, prisoners and wardens face. When criticism is rendered today, it is likely to come from those without practical solutions.
Convicted felons in prison are the least popular major segment of our society. Many law-abiding folks want prison to be miserable. Most disfavor prisoners receiving any amenities or comforts. Public anger boils over when the plight of a particular crime victim is worse than the perpetrator's fate. Law and order politicians get elected. Candidates perceived as soft on crime lose. Accordingly, legislators do not like to appropriate money beyond the minimum requirements. Prison reform based upon continued public funding is almost always doomed to failure.
The biggest barrier to prison reform is the failed model of incarceration we now use. American society abandoned less expensive corporal punishment and with it the high value of public punishment. Because incarceration is hidden from the eyes of the people, it cannot provide the benefit of example to those outside prison. Prisoners live in a human cesspool with the threat of gang violence. Sticking people in cages and hoping they reform has never worked. Recidivism is usually well above 50%. All prosecutors can do is stick people in prison cells for additional years... and the addition of years to a sentence we now know has little deterrent value. The likelihood of getting caught deters crime, but doubling the length of sentences is only marginally effective as a deterrent. Over several decades, we kept pouring on additional years and mandatory sentences, swelling prison populations. We reduced the speed and amount of capital punishment, and so keep murderers in prison for decades or for life. Lawsuits imposed additional requirements on prisons. We've painted ourselves into an expensive corner by abolishing corporal punishment, speedy capital punishment and other methods.
For over 150 years, ever since the invention of the penitentiary, everyone agreed prisoners should work inside prison, for the benefit of the prisoners, the state, crime victims and families outside prison. Prisons used to make money until special interests virtually outlawed prison industries. Prisoners now make products for the state, but cannot participate much in private enterprise due to restrictive federal and state legislation. Only a small fraction of prisoners work full-time. Mainly, prisoners are the largest group of full-ride welfare recipients in the nation.
Societies eventually do what makes economic sense with their prisoners. Therefore, we know change is coming. Right now, it costs $150 million every day just for the prison expenses, not including rising costs for other segments of the criminal justice system, lost opportunity costs or the collateral social costs undermining our entire society.
Editor's note: Corrections.com author John Dewar Gleissner, Esq. graduated from Auburn University (B.A. with Honor, 1973) and Vanderbilt University School of Law (1977), where he won the Editor's Award and participated in the Men's Penitentiary Project. In addition to practicing law in Alabama for the last 33 years, Mr. Gleissner is the author of the new book "Prison and Slavery - A Surprising Comparison"
Reprinted with permission from ezinearticles.com.
Other articles by Gleissner:
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT