Opinions & Editorials

Rehabilitation, not reincarceration

Kara Morelock is a first
year exploratory studies
major. She is a Guest Writer for Newswire from Sheridan, Ind.

In the U.S. today we are plagued by a toxic, inefficient and animalistic prison system. 

For example, did you know people in prison still pay for ancient and barely livable rooming accommodations? Maybe not. Then did you know that the average wage of a U.S. prisoner ranges between $0.23 and $1.15 an hour?

This amount is not even close to enough money to aid them with their living expenses, which according to marketplace.org, can range between $31,000 to $60,000 per year.

Low income and living costs are only a few of the problems destroying today’s U.S. prison system. Simply put, we as Americans are acting unjustly by condemning the continuation of this inefficient prison system. 

Justice is a hard word to define. Even classic books, such as Plato’s Republic, struggle to find a clear definition. However, one thing is for sure: U.S. prisons lack a major form of justice — equality. 

Inmates are treated like slaves, forced to work and will receive punishment if they refuse to. These punishments include restricted visitation rights, isolation or withdrawn good time. They also experience racial bias, poverty during and after prison, unemployment after prison, low wages in prison and are categorized as monsters for committing any crime, severe or not.

To start, let’s tackle the absurd living conditions. As a prisoner you get a four inch wide window, a concrete bed, a combined toilet and sink and if you’re lucky, a shower that is timed to prevent any flooding. You may think those who commit crimes bring these conditions upon themselves. However, treating criminals like this — like animals — won’t change their behavior or cause rehabilitation.

Other countries accomplish rehabilitation without this slave-like treatment. Places such as Switzerland, New Zealand and Norway understand prisoners aren’t animals. 

Otago Corrections facility in New Zealand an example of a humane prison. While attending to the security very diligently, the prison provides skill building exercises such as farming and cooking. 

These classes, in return, help with the prisoner’s rehabilitation by giving them skills they will need to be successful in society when they are released. So, again, treating people unjustly won’t make them just. This treatment is only creating the monsters of tomorrow.

Many people believe they could never become a monster, and I am here to tell you that is wrong. Imagine you were to commit tax fraud. Although this is a crime worthy of punishment, you are still put in prison with people who have committed unforgivable crimes, such as murder and rape. 

You have to be around these people constantly, causing the naked eye to assume you too are a murderer or rapist. You may have not committed the same crime or serve the same sentence, but you suffer the same social and physical consequences of those who did, inside and outside of prison.

Adding onto this scenario, let’s just fast forward to when you are released. It’s been five years, and without even delving into your personal life, you are already suffering. You now have a criminal record restricting when and where you can work, if you can even get a job. Adding to that, some of your human rights, such as voting, have been taken from you. 

Along with this, you haven’t interacted with society in five years and you don’t know how to. You weren’t prepared by your prison, and you feel like an outcast. If you’re someone of color, the isolation you feel is only increased due to the fact that you’re already a minority.

Case studies also show that the system doesn’t give the U.S. many positive outcomes. As stated by the Center for Community Change, “A year after release, 60% of formerly incarcerated people remain unemployed.” 

That is a lot of people being unemployed. That’s not even considering what type of jobs former prisoners are getting or how many of the remaining 40% are going back to prison. Which, according to the National Institute of Justice, is a majority of that 40%. These unemployment and reincarceration outcomes only add to America’s consistently high poverty rate. 

Essentially, former prisoners have few choices after prison and no money to make the ‘right’ ones. This, yet again, proves my point that the U.S. prison system doesn’t work. If it did, we wouldn’t be sending more than half of our prisoners back to prison for a second round. 

We need to rehabilitate, not reincarcerate. The U.S. prison system doesn’t work efficiently and never will until we fix the living conditions, treatment of inmates, poverty of released inmates and, in general, the whole process. We need rehabilitation, not reincarceration.

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