I don’t have cable. I don’t really watch movies. I have about 7 basic over the air channels, which normally sustain any needs I have for television. Ahh but I do have Netflix, and it fills in the gaps my sad amount of channels leaves.
My general strategy for the ‘flix is to choose a show and watch the entire series in a weekend. This particular Sunday while I was busy doing various things around my house I chose “Lockdown” which is a series of mini prison documentaries at various infamous prisons around the country.
I took a class in college that was centered around the sociology of prisons and the subject has always interested me, so this was a natural choice. I have watched a number of ‘Lockdown’ episodes today and it has prompted me to think only one thing: our prison system is broken and seemingly ineffective. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics the recidivism rates of prisoners in the U.S. hovers around 67%. That statistic is staggering to me. It is a clear sign that the current prison system in America is not working as it is intended to.
That begs the question, how do we fix it? This is no simple task. One prison in the series ‘Lockdown’ offered classes, and you would think why the heck should taxpayers foot the bill so a convicted felon can take classes? Well they laid it out in that episode, the cost of housing an inmate is in the 40-thousands, the cost to educate one is $800. So rather than tossing them out at the end of their sentence with no skills or direction the degree obtained gives them a skill, and they have something to use upon returning to society. Also just a little cherry on top, the recidivism rates of inmates that went through an education is much lower than that of other inmates. However getting inmates to put classes & edcation above their various prison gang affiliations is another issue in and of itself.
Clearly education would not be a cure all for the American Prison System, but we have to start somewhere. CNN sited the nicest prison in the world as Bastoy Prison in Norway. Prisoners at Bastoy enjoy freedoms that others can only dream of, keys to their own cells, good meals, pay and a monthly stipend. This sounds outrageous right? The recidivism rate at Bastoy Prison is 16%. Just a small reminder the recidivism rate in The United States is nearly 70%. That figure is almost unbelievable to me.
Is the key to reforming criminals structured freedom within prisons? I don’t have all of the answers, not by a long shot, but I can see that there is something wrong and it pains me to think that the American prison system is cycling inmates in and out of their doors without really looking at the cause and effect of incarceration.