My name is Ozzie Mann Wright, and I’m at the Summit County Jail in Akron, Ohio.
Ever see an assembly line in a big factory where various parts are being ushered down the line and assembled into a finished product? Well, thousands of men and women are being ushered through the prison system every year, only the finished product that emerges at the end of this sentence is not a rehabilitated and morally equipped citizen, ready to redeem themselves as a viable and contributing citizen in our society, but instead they are usually demoralized, socially retarded, and equipped with the most advanced criminal education that taxpayer’s money can buy, and that the counterproductive prison environment can forge.
It is necessary that certain criminals be separated from society and sent to prison for crimes that ultimately threaten the order of a society and the safety of its people. But if there are going to be prisons, then they should be designed and run in a way that the prison environment itself is conducive to the goals of rehabilitation and correction. The growing recidivism rate, the countless reports of prison violence, and the out of control drug problem in our nation’s prisons illustrates that we are in desperate need for reforms to be instituted so that prison can be more than an assembly line through which worse criminals are being forged and released back into society. As the prison systems stands today, it is producing hardened criminals at an alarming rate, 75% of which will one day be released back into society.
This counter production is the direct result of the prison environment and its lack of effective and efficient rehabilitative forces. There’s X amount of money a year allocated to the prison system for the purpose of rehabilitation. If that money is being used effectively, then why is the recidivism rate so high? Why is there an increase in reported incidents involving violence? And why is there an increase in drug related incidents and overdoses in our nation’s prisons? Taxpayers are paying for something but not getting what they’re paying for. In fact, they’re getting quite the opposite. Prisoners are going to prison and coming out a worse threat to society than before they went in.
Here’s why: prison environment versus prisoners’ will. There are two primary influences indigenous to the prison environment that prevent the development of rehabilitation in prisons today. One is the lack of opportunity by which prisoners can develop and strengthen their sense of independence by moving from informative programs, which teach the prisoners when, where, why, and how, to more practical programs where prisoners are afforded opportunities to use what they have learned in real life situations that simulate that which they will be faced with in society, such as going on a job interview, working a job that is incentive based instead of the common prison job where everyone pretty much gets the same pay regardless of what they do, developing some type of program where a currency is used so that prisoners can simulate paying bills and managing real money, basically any type of program that bridges the gap between society and prison in regard to a prisoner developing and the areas of self-sufficiency, autonomy, and self reliance..
As prisons are today, they encourage quite the opposite, training men to become dependent and grossly out of touch with the reality that they will be faced with when they are returned to society. In prison, if you do not eat, you will be forced to eat. While in society, if you don’t feed yourself, you may starve and die. In prison, no matter how you conduct yourself, you are provided three hot meals, a bed to sleep in, hot water and blankets. But in society, if you do not provide these things for yourself, you will most likely go without them. In prison, you are told when to eat when to shower, when to sleep and when to recreate, and everything is done according to a strict time schedule that almost renders a watch obsolete.
In society, it is the opposite, and a man must balance his own schedule and regulate the activities and responsibilities that make up his day himself. This contrast between what society requires from a person released from prison and what the prison environment conditions a prisoner to become, poses a major opposition to rehabilitation within the prison system. Sending a man to prison where by the design of the prison itself, the prisoner is suddenly conditioned to be dependent, and expecting him to develop the sense of independence that will be required of him in order to be a viable citizen in society is like sending someone to medical school and expecting them to graduate a chef. The prison environment is just not conducive to the development that the common prisoner needs in order to be rehabilitated.
The second and opposing primary reason is the rapidly increasing gangs that plague prisons across the nation. The gang influence and the prison system is so pervading throughout the social ecology of the prison environment, that it is almost inevitable to do one’s time without being negatively influenced in one way or another by gangs. The gangs almost miss no opportunity to initiate a new prisoner by confronting him with the ultimatum of either joining the gang or being extorted by it. Faced with one of two choices, 90% or more choose the obvious of the two. Join the gang.
Very few new prisoners are strong enough to explore option three, fighting against options one and two successfully. So the result is that prison gang influence is growing exponentially while a force to oppose the prison gangs become more and more obscure and non-existent. The fact of the matter is that at least 75% of the convicts sent to prison will be released back into society where they can either become a contributing citizen or a menacing threat who re-offends and has to be sent back to prison on the hard earned taxpayer’s dollar.
Which result occurs with each prisoner has a great deal to do with the overall influence of the prison environment. We must either do something about it by mandating that desired results be achieved for the X amount of money being allocated for effective and efficient prison reforms, or we as a society and a nation must accept that taxpayers’ money is being used to fund a broken system that is producing hardened criminals who pose a greater threat to our society upon their release than before their imprisonment. What irony that is.