Prisons Make Prisoners
Prison rehabilitation services are meant to make people better and prevent future crimes, but this has never been the reality. Not only do prisons not harbor an environment for rehabilitation, but they are also places where people often become worse versions of themselves. There is little evidence prison does anything to help prevent a criminal from re-offending, and the negative environment can only lead to bleak outcomes after a prisoner is released. Prison actively makes people worse and doesn’t prevent recidivism that is meant to be reduced by their rehabilitation services.
Before making the case that the effect of prisons is negative on individuals, it is important to address that they fail to do what they are meant to do: keep communities safe and reduce crime in a specific area. A big building pact with criminals only succeeds in being that, and the environment of prison has helped very few people get out of a life of crime. In the early chapters of Jens Soering’s “An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse: An Essay on Prison Reform from an Insider’s Perspective”, he debunks the myth that prisons have a measurable positive impact on society when it comes to preventing crimes.
“In one well-known California study, the 300% growth of that state’s penitentiary system in the 1980s was shown to reduce non-violent crimes like burglary marginally, but rapes and murder hardly at all. Even the US Department of Justice realizes that locking up as many felons as possible ‘does not appear to achieve a large reduction in crime [but] can cause an increase in prisoner population.’ ”
Prisons that fail to reduce crime must be put under the microscope when it comes to recidivism. That is because a common factor in 100% of cases where an offender is sent back to prison is that they went through that system in the first place. When looking closely into the treatment of prisoners it is clear why this lack of prevention is the case.
A significant effort in prison rehabilitation services relies on work training for future placement, but this training often does not suit what is necessary for real-world life. In the Criminology and Criminal Justice article, “‘The prison doesn’t talk to you about getting out of prison’: On why prisons in England and Wales fail to rehabilitate prisoners”, these work programs are just one of the many factors of failed rehabilitation.
“We heard that work opportunities within the prison are often limited, and the nature of the work is often experienced as repetitive and mundane, which does little to develop transferable skills and improve future opportunities.”
Many of the job placements rely on luck, rather than what the prisoner might suit best and find the most success in. It might not be the prison system’s job that formerly incarcerated find work, but their responsibility should at the least include promoting it and leaving prisoners prepared. After programs like this, prisoners are left with skills that are not useful and an even worse outlook on work than they might have had come into the system with. It is difficult to see how this treatment is meant to encourage a clean life, rather than push prisoners back into one of crime.
This feeling of hopelessness after leaving prison is discussed in The Prison Journal piece, “Rehabilitation Programs for Incarcerated Drug Offenders in Malaysia: Experience-Based Perspectives on Reintegration and Recidivism”. Re-offenders told of their experiences which often included leaving prison feeling powerless in their outside life.
“Participants felt helpless, hopeless, and powerless after multiple negative postprison experiences. These feelings developed over time and resulted in negative self-perceptions, low self-confidence, and low self-esteem.”
No one expects prisoners to be very happy while incarcerated, but constantly pumping out low self-esteem individuals with little to no skill after they are released is not going to decrease recidivism rates.
Mental illness and its relation to crime is a large and difficult topic in itself, but it is simple to determine how negative the effect of prison is on those individuals. Prison systems often do not offer the necessary faculties to support these individuals, and in some cases cause more harm to their well-being and mental state. This relationship is analyzed in Craig Haney’s essay “ “Madness” and penal confinement: Some observations on mental illness and prison pain”. Haney puts emphasis on the large number of prisoners who are considered mentally ill, and how the harsh treatment given in prisons can leave with lasting consequences.
“These practices can result in a large number of mentally ill prisoners cycling back and forth between mainline prison housing and various forms of isolated confinement, a pattern that poses especially significant risks to their well-being. In many instances, their long-term mental health is placed in grave jeopardy as a result. For some of them, their deterioration, decompensation, and even more serious consequences (in the form of self-harm and suicide) may prove irreversible (e.g. Kaba et al., 2014).”
This is unacceptable behavior for an already suffering group of people, and the mental pain can extend to anyone who has dealt with the prison system. Haney points out that these people are not a small minority, with the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimating that around 43% of prisoners in the U.S suffer from mental health problems including major depression. There are clear reasons why this treatment is a common association in prison suicides, especially among the mentally ill. Signs of worsening problems can oftentimes be ignored or unnoticed until it is too late.
If prisons aren’t preventing crime in the way so many of us are led to believe, it is important to question what impact they are actually having on their inmates. More prisons don’t mean less crime, it only means a bigger population of incarcerated people. It is not surprising when looking at how prisoners have been treated and the lack of effort put into rehabilitating them that recidivism is still rampant. Prisons only create worse prisoners who are less equipped for outside life, and this ultimately does not prevent recidivism.
Bullock, K., & Bunce, A. (2020). ‘The prison doesn’t talk to you about getting out of prison’: On why prisons in England and Wales fail to rehabilitate prisoners. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 20(1), 111–127. https://doi.org/10.1177/1748895818800743
Cheah, P. K., Unnithan, N. P., & Raran, A. M. S. (2020). Rehabilitation Programs for Incarcerated Drug Offenders in Malaysia: Experience-Based Perspectives on Reintegration and Recidivism. The Prison Journal, 100(2), 201–223. https://doi.org/10.1177/0032885519894656
Haney, C. (2017). “Madness” and penal confinement: Some observations on mental illness and prison pain. Punishment & Society, 19(3), 310–326. https://doi-org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/10.1177/1462474517705389
Söring Jens. An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse: An Essay on Prison Reform from an Insider’s Perspective. Lantern Books, 2004.