Prison reform and recidivism

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Our prisons are broken. Does anybody really doubt that? Two-thirds of felons return to jail within three years of release. We lock people up at a faster rate than any other developed country, and yet it doesn't result in lower crime rates than those other countries. We need to look for real solutions to fix the problems of our penal system.

Most of us relate more to the victims of crimes than the perpetrators. We feel anger and impatience with those who commit crimes, and prison sentences often serve to satisfy our need for retribution and revenge. The punishment received for crimes is often well warranted. Many of us hope that perpetrators will feel a portion of the pain that they inflicted on their victims. Yet, unless we can break the cycle of crime-punishment-more crime, we all suffer; society suffers.

Few criminals make the mental connection between their actions and the prison time they serve. They are often much more full of excuses than remorse. This disconnect lies at the heart of recidivism. But just as there are many ways that lives can fall apart, we need to explore a variety of options for building them back up. No single prison reform program will work across the board with all inmates, but some have demonstrated more promise and success than others. These are the ones that ought to be investigated, replicated, and instigated. Prison reform and rehabilitation programs ought to be at the top of the list of priorities, rather than being among the first cuts during a budget crunch.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if during the course of a jail sentence, an inmate could be transforming into a better person rather than a more hardened criminal? If prison fellowship could be inspirational and restorative rather than draining life of all hope? In a forward-thinking society, we would spend less money building jails and more building community centers, pass fewer laws regarding mandatory sentencing and more regarding restorative justice. If prisoners are forced to take accountability through vocational or educational or anger management classes while incarcerated, and if they have follow-up support for reintegration with society upon their release, they're much less likely to wind up back in jail.

Some prison reform truly does work. We do a disservice to us all if we ignore that to focus solely on punishment.

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