Jon for President!!

Prison Reform

I’m not really intimate with the penal system, so if I mention things that are already being done or considered, please forgive me. My desire is only to suggest additional options that others might not have thought of.

 

But before I get to the main part, I would like to make an observation about sentencing. It is a modern day blessing that judges have so many choices to pick from in deciding how best to deal with the guilty. Naturally I would love to see even more. I am a choicaholic. But I think there is one thing missing.

 

The victim should have a voice in sentencing the criminal. Why? Because true justice includes satisfying the victim that justice has been done and giving them a say in the possibility of extending mercy or leniency or severity. My version of justice goes like this. The atonement for a crime involves several discrete steps for its resolution. A just sentence, reparation, and agreement of the victim that justice has been done. On the guilty side, there should also be agreement that justice has been done, repentance, a desire to make reparation, and a commitment to endure the punishment.

 

Notice that rehabilitation is not mentioned. Rehabilitation is incidental to justice, not the purpose of justice. If you truly want to “change” criminals, you need to convince them that justice has been served, and, be thankful to live in a country where it is fairly rendered*, and, to be thankful for the opportunities that rehabilitation has to offer. Real change starts with a desire to change, and in the case of criminals, regret for their crime, regret for a wasted life, regret for the people they have wronged, starts the process for change. I am thinking that prison life, with its attendant restriction of personal freedoms and implacable authorities, should magnify regret. Prison must ever be a place one wants to avoid, not return to for further training, drug rehab, and “3 meals and a cot”.

 

* [Tho we seek to be fair, we know that true justice can only be approximate in this life. This is because we can’t know the intentions of the heart when the crime was committed. But that’s why God is so cool. He knows the heart and will allow us every unfortunate circumstance and unfair influence in determining our judgment. We will still be found guilty anyway, but we will know we have been treated fairly. But I digress… ]

Here are some ideas to make the penal system less costly and more effective. There are 3 creative ideas, namely, accelerated punishment options, peer tribunals, and “personality type” screening. 4 nutso ideas: sensory impairment options, Big Brother monitoring, residential incarceration, and post incarceration industries ala the CCC. And a suggestion for dual track rehabilitation schedules (cooperative and recalcitrant).

?! - Accelerated Punishment Options - It usually happens that the Judge has several options in choosing how to sentence a criminal. He (the judge) wants to select a sentence that best reflects the weight of the crime and will make an impression on the guilty party’s conscience. The offender has little voice in the sentencing process. But I believe that once convicted and sentenced, the offender should be allowed to request a more severe punishment as a way of shorting the sentence. Something like how a college student takes more credit hours per term to graduate earlier.

Example: Criminal X has been sentenced to 5 years in prison. But to shorten the time, he may elect to, A) Be put in solitary confinement, or B) Work double shifts on the prison work detail, or C) Enlist in the military, or D) Write to the victim each week, or E) Forego visiting rights, or F) Forego one meal a day, or G) Select a sensory deprivation option (see below), or H) Agree to pass a GED curriculum, or I) Whatever further restricts a prisoner’s rights, requires extra work, or is difficult to accomplish. I told you, I am a choicaholic. Note: Not all options are equal, and so, the amount of time that can be deducted from the sentence is variable as well.

You may not agree with the options, but that is not the point. Actually these could have been options that the judge might have selected to punish a more unrepentant criminal. The point is to allow the condemned to accelerate their punishment at their own election. This accomplishes 2 very good things. First, it saves the state money since they will be out of the prison system sooner. Second, it subtly reinforces the connection between crime and punishment, a connection that is most needful in rehabilitation and reform. AND, it puts the implementation of the punishment into the prisoner’s hands both to select and endure. It is human nature to cooperate more fully when we have been involved in the choice. And willing cooperation is not such a bad thing to cultivate in a prison setting.

?! - Peer Tribunals - It is one thing to be tried before a jury of one’s peers. It is another to exclude the judge and be tried, condemned, and sentenced by one’s peers. I am not suggesting to replace the justice system. I am suggesting to create an alternative justice system within the prison.

Stuff happens. Infractions during incarceration are a given. But rather than the prison staff seek to discipline the offender, I think the prisoners should do it themselves. Oh, I know what you’re thinking, “There will be no justice at all, and if there is, it will be heavy with favoritism.” Perhaps. But consider this: Right now prisoners are on they’re best behavior for the prison staff. They know that if staff catches them, they are in trouble. Wouldn’t it be grand if they were on their best behavior for each other? Is there any way we can get to this winsome place?

What if the prisoners were to create their own code of conduct? Oh, I know this already exists as an unwritten code, but what if it were written? What if it had the endorsement of the prison staff? What if there was a violation, the person would have to be judged before a formally convened Peer Tribunal? What if the Peer Tribunal could sentence the guilty to any of the above “accelerated punishment” options, but without any reduction in the person’s sentence? What if the Peer Tribunal judges rotated out every 2 months? What if the Peer Tribunal could have its decisions reviewed by staff (at the Tribunal’s request), and if staff concurred with the decision (that justice had been done), that the whole prison would get an extra ration of cookies or magazines or Gatorade or whatever?

My goal for prison life is to further develop a prisoner’s sense of right and wrong, and, to make wrong more repugnant to them. In the case of Christian prisoner’s, this is accomplished by the Holy Spirit turbo-charging their conscience. But in the case of the unsaved, peer pressure can also perform this role. And I don’t think I need to emphasize how pervasive peer pressure in is prison.

As a wonderful upgrade, I would also suggest that those who are elected to a Peer Tribunal be taught (both in a classroom setting and discussion group) the principles of justice and corrective punishment. No grades are given, but books would be available for further personal investigation.

?! -  “Personality Type” Screening - I am a big fan of Myers-Briggs testing. I was made so by reading Kiersey-Bates’ book, Please Understand Me. I was much surprised when I read that my ‘type’ instinctively sought out diverse and unrelated education and knowledge. I didn’t think anyone knew this. I thought this was my own little private idiosyncrasy. I would like to here suggest that personality type testing is a missing link in the criminal justice system.

Knowing a person’s ‘personality style’ helps select more effective rewards and punishments. It is a path for more effective education and rehabilitation. It is a doorway for communication, but not just communication, but mutual respect for other’s differences. I presume you know this already. If it is not normative for prisoner evaluation right now, it should be, don’t you think?

All righty then. Time to have fun. Here are some very creative suggestions that you are free to ignore without peril. Yes, I take each one seriously. But no, I don’t expect consensus as to their implementation.

?? - Sensory Deprivation Options - “What’s that? You want us to blind the prisoners?” Actually yes. And more even. No, I don’t mean using medieval hot pokers. Nor do I mean modern surgical techniques. I am thinking of something temporary, easily removable (but not by the prisoner), and not harmful to the eyes. Perhaps an oversized opaque contact lens that must be inserted by a doctor using a local anesthetic. (They have ‘30 day’ lenses now, you know?).

Would you like to see a ‘hard case’ made more pliable? Take their sight away. From that point on they are utterly dependant on others. So I guess if such a one wants help, they will likely cultivate their politeness skills. I further guess that they will be more circumspect in the threats they make because they will never know who’s listening. I am also thinking that since this is such a fearful option that they will be more cooperative lest they incur such a punishment. But there’s more…

Hearing and speech are 2 other ‘privileges’ that can be revoked for remedial purposes. Earplugs that can only be removed with special tools; a collar that sounds a buzzer if the wearer even whispers (perhaps using directional microphones pointed inward). I’ll bet these are not original ideas. I’ve never read about them, but it would amaze me if others had not proposed similar plans.

Prison is a place where rights and freedoms may be infringed upon for punitive and remedial ends. I see no reason to be apologetic about this. But these suggestions for sensory impairments is not from some morbid fascination with tormenting the prisoners (indeed physical damage must be prevented at all costs). Rather, these are cost saving ideas.

Consider -

> A solitary confinement cell costs big money, not just from construction, but also from utilities and guard staff. A person having a sense impaired may be released back into the population without further expense. Oh, they are afraid to go back into the population? Then they can go to a “safe” area like the cafeteria or near a guard post on the exercise grounds.

> Efficiency is an ever present factor in evaluating methods for reform. I’ll wager that sensory impairment will immediately alter behavior and thought processes, and will leave a longer lasting effect than any other punishment you have in your repertoire. I am sure that there will be civil rights challenges to its implementation, but you need to stick to your guns. This punishment is no more unfair than solitary confinement, nor more unsafe than prison life in general (as long as there are ‘safe’ areas they can retreat to). And as long as it does not physically harm a prisoner, it may be considered as an option. Indeed, it might be offered as an alternative to solitary confinement for a prisoner to reject or request. If it is from a prisoner’s free choice, then there is no conflict with civil rights laws.

> Sympathy and Empathy - Two marvelous human emotions that are seldom encountered in life, much less prison life. How wonderful if it could be cultivated in such a heartless environment. Yes, there are abusers and oppressors and manipulators all over the ‘yard’, but I am hoping that there are others who will see the helpless predicament of these and will come to their aid. Maybe it will have been because they had it done to themselves previously. Maybe because it is a friend. Maybe just out of genuine sympathy. But whatever the reason, if human kindness has a springboard, it is often tripped when others are put at a disadvantage. Perhaps some will view it as an opportunity to prey upon such a one. But I am hoping that others who know this will stand in the gap. And if not, well, then I guess that’s what ‘safe’ areas are for.

?? - ‘Big Brother’ Monitoring - We live in a age were surveillance has never been more inexpensive. Computers, DVD recorders, and webcams (not to mention streaming video cell phones) are incredibly affordable. So why not comprehensively ‘soak’ a prison with these, including an equal number of fake monitoring devices. Invasion of privacy is a civil right that brooks no infringement… on the outside. Inside, it is an extension of the ‘guarding’ process, and is another reason to stay out of prison. But in suggesting pervasive prisoner monitoring, I have more than a desire to intercept illegal activity and supplement security.

How would you behave if you knew take every word you spoke was being recorded? I’m sure you would be more circumspect in every word that you said. [More’s the pity that people don’t realize that this is already happening… in Heaven.] If you could modify behavior so extensively throughout the population, and do it inexpensively, wouldn’t that be a good idea? Won’t that by extension reduce undesirable behavior and reduce more expensive punitive measures? I think so.

?? - Residential Incarceration - So lets say you have a low risk prisoner, or perhaps one with a short sentence. Which is cheaper? To incarcerate them in an over populated prison, or, to send them to a house where they may not leave the building until their sentence is up. A house that has no guards, allows no visitors, and only uses electronic surveillance. Yes, I know that this already done via ‘house arrest’ anklets, but what I am describing is not allowing them to go home, but instead to a residential facility.

This a mid-choice between incarceration and house arrest. Actually, it is a low cost alternative to incarceration. And one that has unexpected benefits. I will elucidate;

> How much money does it cost to maintain a prisoner in an institutional setting? $20,000 per year? $30,000? Cut that in half. Give the other half to the ‘residential’ prisoners (in the form of vouchers redeemable via a website) to pay for their own food and utilities and everything. You saved money AND encouraged budgeting.

> Statistics show that the larger the population, the more problems will happen. So a residence that houses 10 or less persons has an implicit advantage.

> Statistics show that ‘half way’ houses reduce recidivism. Any questions?

May I additionally suggest internet computers that allow ‘text only’ retrievals. NA and AA meetings that include outsiders (presumably given security screening). Tools and supplies to be available (via vouchers) for improvements to the house AND training in construction trades to use these more effectively (both in application and estimating costs)(so they might learn how to ‘bid’ jobs in the future). Maybe a telephone where all the calls are recorded.

I would like to make the residence a ‘pressure cooker’, but not for violence or vice, but for opportunity and reform. Residential incarceration, to my mind, reeks of rehabilitation more than retribution. This is the problem with ‘house arrest’. It is not in a setting that forces someone to take measures to improve themselves. They can eat, sleep, watch TV, hang out with friends… pretty much anything a free person would do except for leaving their prescribed boundary. House arrest barely classifies as punishment, but is more like an enhanced parole.

Residential incarceration IS prison, with a purpose; that purpose being the person’s reform and restoration. Speaking of restoration, wouldn’t it be cool if the prisoner could work towards a dollar amount repayment for the crime to be paid back to the victim, and that amount having been achieved, would reduce their sentence. Now there’s my kind of justice.

??- Post Incarceration Industries - This is actually a welfare idea more than a prison idea.

I don’t have to belabor the problem of finding a job after one comes out of prison. It is the number two reason for recidivism and drug relapse. So why not create industries, businesses, and occupations that are run by the state AND which mirror the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930’s? This is not an original idea, but one that is overdue for a resurrection. (“What’s the number one reason?” Returning to hang out with their old hoodlum friends, who often are family members.)

During the depression, the CCC was created to find employment for young men. The more I read about the demographic of the typical CCC recruit (young, able to work, uneducated, history of poverty), the more I am reminded of a typical ex-felon coming out of confinement. We further have the advantage of hindsight to fashion any such program in such a way to compensate for the few weaknesses of the original CCC (e.g., discrimination and fraud).

“So where are we supposed to get the money to pay for all this?” Actually this is a money maker. Consider: If recidivism were reduced by 25%, how much money would be saved from law enforcement, the judicial process, and incarceration? Moreover, if wages are paid at reduced rates like the CCC (because food, education, housing, and medical expenses are being absorbed), doesn’t that get the same public sector jobs done at identical expense, and maybe at a reduced expense? There’s your money.

But that’s only the financial side. Let’s talk about the dignity of work. Let’s talk about the sense of helplessness one feels when they are not able to find a job. Let’s talk about the opportunity for creating a sub-culture of education and advancement. Let’s stop talking and do it!

Just so you know, I am an advocate of workfare. I believe the that workfare is a more progressive way of dealing with unemployment. In fact, I am thinking that a 100% employment goal for the country is a cure for welfare, minimum wages laws, and employer medical coverage. (Why? Because if it is easy to find a job, albeit a minimally paying job, employers will need to create a better benefits package to attract and keep employees, even for the minimum wage jobs.) A good place to prove the concept is with a post incarceration industries program. If it works for ex-offenders, it can work for anybody.

I told you, I’m nuts. There are nutso ideas. Aren’t they cool?

I’m not done with you yet. I’ve got one more idea to weigh in on.

 

If I were to seek an overriding trait of most criminals, it would be their problem in dealing with authority. If there are any goals for rehabilitation, submitting to authority should be one of them. Right now, enforced authority (via punishments and denial of rights) is the way of the (prison) world. Oh, that there could be another path.

 

Out of my vast reservoir of ignorance, I would like to classify all prisoners as being either cooperative or un- cooperative (recalcitrant). Because of this I think that 2 tracks should be available in all prisons combining both punishment and rehabilitation. 2 ways to serve time. I guess you could call them ‘hard time’ and ‘easy time’, but I will call them both ‘hard time’.

 

To all prisoners:

 

There are 2 ways you can be here. You can serve out your sentence by eating, sleeping, and staying out of trouble, or, you can redeem the time. If you choose to redeem the time, you will be given more work to do, more education to absorb, and more people you will have to please. You will be very busy, very tired, and a better person by the end of your sentence. This path involves greater responsibility, and so, involves greater punishment for infractions and cheating. Unless you are committed to the journey, you would be better off not in the program.

 

No one is going to make you do this. Getting kicked out of the program is a real possibility if you don’t want to cooperate. It will not be fun. It will be difficult. What you are doing is building up those things you are lacking right now, namely, certifiable education, communication skills, anger management / conflict resolution, and the ability to deal with authority (which, if you are put into a position of authority, you will understand better how to deal with those who are put over you). ANYONE who enters this program will be a different person when they are done. So I guess the question is, “Do you want to change?”

 

Returning to you, my gentle reader:

 

As I have previously stated, when we are involved with the choice, our cooperation level goes way up. But the above scenario is not just taking GED online credits, nor being given ‘trustee’ status and extra privileges. It is a comprehensive program of rehabilitation that involves psychological testing, custom tailored work details, homework and grades, marine-like discipline, and books for rewards. It is hard time, but it is time better spent.

Thank you for your patience in reading all this. I suspect that many of these ideas have been thought of before. It’s just that I have never read about them before. But even if these are all redundant, if one idea is new and helpful, then my efforts are not in vain.

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