Wednesday, August 7, 2013

NR on the Prison Industrial Complex

At National Review, Rich Lowry has written a piece entitles, "Reforming the Prison-Industrial Complex Our penal system is out of control, and conservatives have the right values to fix it."

Lowry notes prison is "one of the most important institutions in American life" as "about a quarter of all the world’s prisoners are behind bars in the United States, a total of roughly 2 million people." He then notes that it costs "about $60 billion a year to imprison them."

Lowry says this "vast prison-industrial complex" has "succeeded in reducing crime but is a blunt instrument."  Unfortunately, "prison stays often constitute a graduate seminar in crime, and at the very least, the system does a poor job preparing prisoners to return to the real world."

What is to be done? Among other things, Lowry suggests:
Prisoners should be required to do what many of them have never done before, namely an honest day’s work ... [they should] be paid for it and rewarded if they are particularly diligent and skilled. ... Inmates with drug and alcohol addictions should be forced to get treatment ... There should be maximum openness to faith-based programs, such as those run by the splendid Christian organization Prison Fellowship ... Prisoners should be encouraged to keep in contact with their families rather than cut off from them ... Ex-inmates out on parole or on probation should be monitored more closely.
But we note a particularly important passage in Lowry's piece:
... about 40 percent of ex-prisoners are rearrested within three years. The goal should be to reduce recidivism as much as possible. Offenders shouldn’t be discharged directly from solitary confinement, or discharged without a photo ID. In the job market, they shouldn’t be denied occupational licenses when the job in question has nothing to do with their crime. They should, if their crime wasn’t too serious, eventually have it expunged from the records for most purposes. 
This, of course, suggests the importance of more aggressive, systematic use of clemency powers by state governors, and pardon and parole commissions. It simply makes no sense to erect huge barriers to employment in "the real world," and then stand back amazed when employment and recidivism follow. If a prisoner is deemed worthy of a second chance at becoming a law-abiding productive members of society, then he/she deserves full support from those making such decisions. Lowry concludes:
We have proved in the past several decades that we can lock a lot of people up. The challenge now is if we can do it more humanely and intelligently and, ultimately, create less work for the prison-industrial complex. 
See full piece at National Review, here.

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