The work of Angela Davis in her book, “Are Prisons Obsolete?”, introduces readers to the current state of the U.S. system of imprisonment and rehabilitation. She reveals the correlation between corporate interests, racial profiling, current laws and how such factors have contributed to the growing population of inmates within U.S. penitentiaries.
Her book reveals how rehabilitation practices within prisons at the present are far from promoting a system that helps to transition inmates into normal civilian life.
Instead, what occurs is a removal of civil liberties, the promotion of negative forms of behavior and finally the implementation of prolonged periods of incarceration so that private corporations can make more money and profit off of the inmates at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.
This was noted in the following statement made by Davis (2003):
“In arrangements reminiscent of the convict lease system, federal, state, and county governments pay private companies a fee for each inmate, which means that private companies have a stake in retaining prisoners as long as possible, and in keeping their facilities filled” (Davis, 95).
As such, this paper presents the notion that the current system of rehabilitation within prisons is inherently flawed and needs to be changed in order to resolve the relatively high rates of re-incarceration within the U.S.
Based on this, the assumption of this paper is that by implementing a system that focuses on encouraging better social integration rather than punishment this should help resolve the prison problems within the U.S.
Current Problems within U.S. Prisons
Based on the work of Vasiliades (2005), it can be seen that the current state of the U.S. prison system in no way rehabilitates prisoners (Vasiliades, 71-99). In fact Vasiliades (2005) states that prisons actually promote violent behavior resulting in a greater likelihood for those who enter it to get even worse over time. Vasiliades (2005) explains this by stating the following
“…what do you expect would happen if you throw inmates into what is essentially a melting pot of violence and crime with no opportunity for improving their lives once they get out of prison, the obvious outcome would be a smarter and more violent criminal rather than a reformed prisoner that can be integrated into society” (Vasiliades, 71-99).
Davis attempts to explain the inherent failure of society to realize the current problems faced by the prison system by saying that: “this is the ideological work that the prison performs – it relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism” (Davis, 16).
It is based on the views of Vasiliades (2005) and Davis (2003) that it becomes painfully obvious that some means of change must be implemented in order to resolve the current problem surrounding the current prison system.
Gopnik (2012) in his examination of the present day rates of incarceration within the U.S. shows that with the current system of rehabilitation in place, the possibility of re-incarceration is high with the likelihood of a former inmate making his/her way back into the prison system currently being set at 40 to 50 percent (Gopnik, 72-77).
Gopnik (2012) even goes on to state that such a rate has increased considerably from 60 to 70 percent; the race, level of education and the absence of any professional skills could be indeed utilized (Gopnik, 72-77).
Rehabilitation instead of Incarceration
One way in which the problems presented by Davis (2003) and Vasiliades (2005) can be resolved is to implement methods or rehabilitation instead of incarceration. This comes in the form of processes and various stages of personality development wherein inmates are modified in such a way that they can easily integrate and adapt themselves back into the society.
One country in which such a process has proven to be quite effective is the Netherlands wherein their prison system implements a series of steps for modifying behavior and ensuring that prisoners can have a stable and fulfilling life outside of prison.
What you have to understand is that based on the studies of Vasiliades (2005), prison life within the U.S. does not prepare prisoners for life outside prison. It is often the case that prison reinforces and even encourages adverse behavior resulting in an inability to live a normal life and a greater propensity to return to a life of crime.
The Netherlands resolves this issue by providing prisoners with daily psychological sessions, open prison environments, a relaxing atmosphere; they even provide them with the opportunity to obtain a college degree while in prison at the expense of the state.
Not only that, prisoners within such environments are treated as if they are normal individuals as compared to most U.S. prisons where they are treated with a certain degree of disdain. By reinforcing positive behaviors and providing a means by which they can integrate themselves into society, the Netherlands has in effect created a system which has considerably minimized the rate of repeat offenders.
This has manifested itself in the fact that the Netherlands has one of lowest crime rates in the world with a near nonexistent murder rate. Other countries have similarly tried to adopt such a style of allowing inmates to develop positive behaviors and skills in order to help them transition into society once they get out of jail. The Philippines, for instance, is home to “New Belibid Prison” which is one of the largest jails in South East Asia.
Its size is somewhat misleading though due to the fact that prison officials allow prisoners to construct mini-homes, businesses and even training facilities within the prison.
This has enabled the prison population to not only develop itself as a community but it has also helped its inmates in internalizing important job and social skills which would greatly assist them once they are released. Combined with the prison’s training program which teaches prisoners an assortment of trades and skills this has resulted in a far lower rate of re-incarceration as compared to their U.S. counterparts.
Based on the presented data it can be seen that by implementing a system that focuses on encouraging better social integration rather than punishment this should help resolve the prison problems within the U.S. as evidenced by the case of the Netherlands and the Philippines.
What you have to understand is that the current prison system within the U.S. does not rehabilitate at all and in fact promotes greater instances of criminal behavior. By implementing a system of rehabilitation instead of punishment and incarceration this should greatly reduce repeat offenders within the U.S. prison system.
Davis, Angela. “Are Prisons Obsolete?.” Publishers Group Canada 1.1 (2003):1- 126. Print.
Gopnik, Adam. “The Caging Of America.” New Yorker 87.46 (2012): 72-77. Literary Reference Center. Web.
Vasiliades, Elizabeth. “Solitary Confinement And International Human Rights: Why The U.S. Prison System Fails Global Standards.” American University International
Law Review 21.1 (2005): 71-99. Business Source Premier. Web.