The punishment for crime in America is being incarcerated.  There were, in 2008, about 3.1% of the United States’ population in juvenile and adult federal, state or county prisons.  We would all like to think that once someone goes to prison, that they would be willing to turn their lives around and become responsible and productive members of society.  However, this simply doesn’t happen.  The chances of a violent criminal being rehabilitated without necessary tools such as anger management classes, psychological and psychiatric therapy, and learning a trade to be used outside of prison is very slim.   Long sentences for criminal behavior along with poor opportunities for felons to be hired by companies mixed with the general idea that punishment equaling prison time as a successful solution of rehabilitation filters many through the cracks into committing repeat offenses.  Gangs along street gangs and racial gangs in Prison run rampant, forcing most members to take justice into their own hands or commit further crimes through the direction of gang leaders or pressure to serve the gang’s particular needs that result in murder, beatings, or other violence that does nothing but circulate the perpetual criminal atmosphere in prisons.  So why then isn’t something done to rehabilitate these criminals, dissolve gang issues in prison, and actually work to make these people acceptable members of society?

There are a considerable amount of criminals that don’t desire treatment or find life behind bars much easier to cope with than the daily pressures of life out of jail such as bill paying, rent paying, and employment issues.  Not all felons are career criminals, but the stigma that surrounds felons is one that breeds repeat offenses.  The idea that one already served their time as a felon or even for misdemeanors and paid their debt to society still have a debt to pay as a label is attached to them for the rest of their lives.  This doesn’t help felons get jobs, even in the stark drought of jobs for those who are not criminals, which might lead them to a better life therefore making them a better person for it.  Instead, the dark ghosts of one’s past as a felon haunts them when they go to get a well paying job in an office or otherwise secure place that does background checks on employees.  The stigma that “once a felon, always a felon” isn’t necessarily true nor is it fair to the person who has paid their debt to society via prison time.  Numerous placement companies, like temporary agencies, don’t hire those with a criminal background and after months of not being able to eat, find a place to live, and earn a decent living devolves into the desperate criminal mind willing to do “whatever needs to be done” to make it through life.  It simply isn’t fair that forgiveness for one’s felonious past just doesn’t happen in the employment realm.  It seems that it is easier to enter into selling drugs, running with a gang, or committing a violent crime out of frustration over employment for those who live in stark, abject poverty and have previously committed a crime.  Perhaps the former offender got out of prison belonging to the gang while in and feels a sense of loyalty to the gang or is forced into loyalty by an oppressive lack of other opportunities or actual rehabilitation while in and a life crime becomes attractive because there is nothing else for them.  It might seem lazy, almost stagnant, to enter a life of crime in the hood because that is what is expected of you, the only option you have, or lack of real coping skills and mechanisms to change were never introduced to the former offender while in prison.  It becomes a terrible and dangerous cycle of neglect for one’s self, while pressures of daily life and the tools in which to deal with it while stagnating in prison were absent.

Most gangs in prison are permitted to operate without being stopped by officials at the prison.  Divides in racial lines runs so deep in prison, prisoners are often refusing to room with people who are enemies of their “race” because of gangs.  How is such a thing allowed to go on and why is it happening?  Because no one really cares about criminals once they get their sentence and are put away.  Even if that person was later exonerated by DNA evidence, society at large fails to care.  The average person in America never stops to think that a black guy in prison is being stabbed right now by the Aryan Nation.  Once the jail cell door shuts, that’s the last time anyone thinks of that person.  The average prisoner is forced to join a gang once in prison and may be asked by that gang to commit criminal acts in prison generally unchecked by prison officials.  They keep track of who is in what gang, but do nothing to break up that gang in an effective manner or even curb the gang’s exploits in prison except to run preventive measures to maintain the “peace” in prison if you could even call it that.  They have a special gang unit that studies the behavior, tracks members, and keeps a close eye on operation of the gang; without providing other alternatives that could be effective in changing them even if they commit crimes in prison.  Only the well behaved are given bonuses like working, group counseling or even individualized counseling.  While that’s applauded, the other percentage of prisoners who are not good ones don’t get an opportunity and often fall through the massive cracks of non-rehabilitation.  However, I also believe there are those prisoners who will never be rehabilitated and that such things might be wasted on them; but the lack of even trying to help them with tools to fight the criminal behavior and triggers isn’t helping anyone.  While the famous Joe Arpaio might be making prisoners wear pink and is tough on prisoners, his lack of doing anything to rehabilitate them is maddening along with his attitude that prison should be nasty and hard.  It doesn’t really stop the career criminal from committing his next robbery or whatever because he has no other life skills.  It doesn’t help anyone but is successful in making them unduly miserable and forlorn which is what they are feeling anyway down the track to criminal behavior.

Give everyone a chance to do a job, even if it’s in their cells working on making crafts or in a shop building caskets, it would help if everyone is given a job.  Let them farm some of the prison land for food to sustain themselves.  Let them do something other than sit in a cell for 23 hours per day with an hour of outside time.  Poetry.  Artwork.  There are a million things they could be allowed to do to make money for the prison and eventually for themselves.   With the money they gain from that, they must pay room and board, that way they have an incentive to work and are given a positive life tool to be able to survive in life.  Get counseling for those who are violent offenders and even those who are not.  It not like they aren’t worth it somehow, because they are.  Groups to fight drug addiction in prison should be happening and outside sponsors who can follow them after release should be happening too to give them options on how to live their lives.  Teach them a trade, I know that GED classes are available, but so should a trade class.  Let them learn how to do something that they can do after release, no matter when that release date might be, no matter what the sentence, no matter where they are housed.  Sure, there’s always going to be those people that continue to exhibit negative behavior.  Those people lose the opportunities or are suspended from them and meet room and board anyway.  They have to learn something, sometime and if they don’t, then they are where they belong…in prison.

It’s your tax money.  It’s your responsibility to see that it works for you, no matter who the person is or where they come from.  If everyone took a little time to volunteer and actually do something about it, we might produce more responsible and conscience residing ex-felons instead of career criminals.  The “Thug Life” and it’s need to continue in our culture needs to dissolve and further, if we want the shootings, drug dealing, and criminal behavior to stop, we have to take on our own responsibility to help someone in need of help.  Life in prison doesn’t need to be miserable, it needs to be productive.  I would buy prison made artwork, tee shirts, china…anything they produced as a way of supporting these people who need our love, commitment, and help.  The people who don’t rehabilitate, like pedophiles and violent offenders, perhaps need help that we can’t offer and maybe their suffering should be necessary if they continue and offend over and over.  Those are the people that need the prison time and deserve it; but what if we could do something special for them that would change their whole life?  What if just 15 minutes of saying, “Hey you can change and I’m here to help” would make a difference?  One doesn’t know until one tries.