Criminal Justice Reform Part II, Inside Prison
This week we're returning to the topic of Criminal Justice Reform and focusing on life inside America's prison system. What it's like, what it does to those incarcerated, and what a better system might look like.
“Inhuman And Stupid”
What is the purpose of prison? To keep dangerous people off our streets? To punish those who commit heinous crimes? To reeducate and reform criminals so that they don’t commit another crime upon release?
Really, it’s a combination of all three. Yet the high rates of reoffending in the U.S. - around 70% of released prisoners are arrested again within 3 years - suggests something is going seriously wrong with the system’s rehabilitative function. And given that 95% of people who go into prison eventually come out, we all have something to lose when incarceration fails to engender reform.
In this episode, New Thinking discusses ‘the false bill of goods’ Americans have been sold when it comes to the policies that will ‘keep us safe’, and the misguided motivations driving them. Plus, the impact and limitations of the recently passed First Step Act at addressing federal criminal justice reform.
When Orange Is Your New Black
Have you ever wondered what life is like inside an American prison? How closely it resembles the institution depicted in ‘Orange is the New Black’? What about life inside one the country's privately run federal prisons, which now house around 8.5% of the overall prison population, up 47% from 2000. According to a damning report from the U.S. Inspector General in 2016, these privately run institutions are less safe and less secure (but no less costly) than those run by the federal or state governments.
You would be hard pressed to find this information since journalists are rarely given unconstrained access to explore America’s prisons, particularly its private prisons, whose records aren’t typically subjected to public access laws. But Mother Jones reporter, Shane Bauer, did gain access. In 2014 he took a job as a Corrections Officer at Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana, earning $9 an hour. In this episode of Reveal, Bauer discusses what he discovered about life within the walls of one of America’s private prisons.
My Perfect Prison
If we were to start from scratch and redesign America’s prison system, what would we want it to look like?
The U.S. currently has one of the highest recidivism rates in the world, at around 70%. By comparison, Norway has the lowest, at 20% - in large part thanks to its emphasis on rehabilitation and restorative justice over punishment and confinement. Their policy approach is simple: prepare people for release from the day they are incarcerated.
So, with criminal justice reform high on the minds of U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle, as America’s prison population remains stubbornly high, what can we learn from the way Norway structures its penal system? In this episode of ‘My Perfect Country’, the BBC World Service explores just that.