More resources will help overall justice system.
While incarcerated at the
These men are like Rip Van Winkle, who slept 20 years and awoke to a far different world. One of the worst-case scenarios is a prisoner who was sentenced as a teenager to 37 years. Upon re-entry, the world would be so strange it might seem easier to go back to prison. Consider a few of the changes that have occurred and how long it might take to adjust to them: computers, cellphones, GPS, the Internet, cars that park themselves.
To ensure more success stories, attitudes need to change not only for the prisoners' sakes but also for the state's financial welfare. In
In addition to the legislative action, the Missouri courts have gone to "smart sentencing," a process by which the offender's conviction code, criminal history and other background information are put into a computer that gives a range of recommended sentences, the likelihood the individual might commit future crimes and the financial costs of various options. Because probation is much cheaper than prison, the analysis hopefully will decrease the number of nonviolent criminals and drug and alcohol offenders who are sent to prison and instead place more of them in rehabilitation programs such as
The men at the reunion told about their lives after prison and introduced their wives and children. They all thanked Don Cline, the retired assistant warden who helped start the Therapeutic Community and gave the men considerable freedom in how it was structured. I got recognition as a trainer who helped give the prisoners who were the team leaders both leadership skills and some therapeutic skills in dealing with addictions. Two major issues are attacked in the treatment program: substance abuse and criminal thinking. It is an intensive reorientation of their thinking using direct confrontations and cognitive restructuring. Basically, that means skipping the childhood traumas and dealing with the faulty thinking about who they are and what they have been doing. Applicants who couldn't handle the pressures to change were soon dropped from the program and returned to the locked section of the prison.
Most of the ex-offenders remembered the date they decided to change their lives, a period when most also decided to accept the teachings of Christ. As they introduced themselves, they said things such as, "It saved my life;" "I signed up for freedom;" "My criminal thoughts needed to be worked on;" and "It was a satisfaction to find that police who used to chase me now come to me as customers." One said, "The power of others as examples was very important to me." Several were moved to tears as they told their stories.
I individually interviewed half a dozen men. During my presentation, I asked questions of the group to get their ideas about rehabilitation of prisoners. The following is a summary of some of their comments and suggestions.
- It is difficult to get an education in a prison system that resists offering college courses even when professors offer to teach for free.
- People are mad at inmates for their crimes and don't want them to have any advantages. The attitude also affects the legislature.
- Some programs would work better if they were run by ex-prisoners who had succeeded on the outside after spending a fair amount of time in prison.
- Ex-prisoners need vocational counseling and job search help.
- One ex-offender said when he went to the job center for help, he was pointed to a computer. He had never used one and had no idea what it could do for him. At that particular place, he was offered no help in learning.
- Upon re-entry into society, prisoners need a guaranteed job with minimum pay for six months to get their skills back up to speed. They must pay for things such as anger management programs, and with no resources, they end up in debt right at the start. Prisoners should work while in prison. Some jobs exist, but there should be more. Many prisons could become self-supporting.
- People don't want a state-owned institution competing with private industry, but the public has to pay the $22,000 a year to support prisoners.
- Mentors who have successfully made it back into the community could help ex-prisoners readjust. Skills such as anger management should be taken care of before discharge, not afterward at a cost to the inmate.
In the early 1970s, I consulted at the women's prison in Tipton, which I thought of as a forward-thinking institution. The superintendent believed every woman should get as much education as possible, and she mainly pushed GEDs. She believed women should have jobs in the prison and, if possible, the job should be one she could work at after discharge. Women were taught to sew, to do kitchen work, hairdressing and office skills. She invited me and a graduate class I was teaching to give each woman a vocational-interest test, an academic-aptitude test and a personality appraisal. Each had an individual session with a student to go over the test results and talk about their future after prison. I believe investing in a program such as that would cut the recidivism rate for both men and women. The program at Tipton fell apart when the superintendent died suddenly, and the new superintendent did not believe in treating felons so well.
Part of the solution to