Lack of Rehabilitation
Over half of prisoners today are in for non-violent offenses because of policies such as mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes laws, and the "War on Drugs." Yet prison society uses violence as a basic level of interpersonal interaction -guards regularly beat and abuse prisoners, fail to intervene in prison fights, or even instigate fights. Many accounts describe prison guards tolerating or encouraging violence between prisoners in order to deflect the violence from themselves. But increasingly little thought seems to be given to how this will affect prisoners upon release and the communities they return to. Due to the supposed need to be "tough on crime," emphasis on "victim's rights," and shrinking budgets, prisons have given up almost all attempts at rehabilitation. Despite numerous studies showing that education is the most effective way to reduce recidivism, most prison extension classes have been abolished. Other forms of job training have shrunk, and while an estimated 70% of prisoners are illiterate, access to reading materials and even exercise equipment is increasingly restricted.
Upon release, prisoners are often poorly prepared for adjusting to life in society, and discrimination against ex-prisoners is common, making it even harder for them to get back on their feet. For example, most prisoners have to find housing and figure out how they are going to support themselves and their families, but discrimination against applicants with criminal records is still legal in some states. Prisoners are often released with little or no money and few resources or contacts except those gained while in jail, leading to frequent returns to jail shortly after release. Even well-regarded post-release programs see 1/3 or more of those they assist return to jail-hardly an encouraging success rate; for prisoners without counseling or support, the rates are far higher.
Prisons are now intended not for the protection of society and the reintegration of troubled law-breakers, but as simple retribution -- punishment for transgression. The routine use of violence in prisons to punish prisoners -- or to get prisoners to fight each other rather than fighting guards --prepares prisoners poorly for reintegration to society. The vast majority of all prisoners will be released to society, so it is in the interests of those outside, in addition to the rights of the prisoners themselves, to help develop opportunities for released prisoners to lead productive lives after prison.
Sadly, while studies have shown the deterrent effect of harsher prison conditions to be mostly negligible, today's desire for retribution seems to outweigh even our basic instincts for a calmer society. But at an even more fundamental level, ADPSR believes that the retributive approach violates all basic principles of justice other than "an eye for an eye." The brutality of our prisons, and their role in perpetuating harsh and hopeless lives, flies in the face of the American dream and the high ideals of our civilization itself.
Additionally, little account is made of the impact that incarceration has on families. Most US prisons have few facilities for family visits, especially for young children. Jailing parents creates trauma and depression among children, forces them into foster care, and increases the likelihood of future jail time for the children. All these burdens fall onto already cash-strapped state agencies that often fail to provide any meaningful childcare, nurturing, or possibility for a hopeful future for these children. As architects, we can be far better employed providing the spaces needed for social nurturing, healing, and reintegration - instead, the money spent on prison construction steals the resources needed for these central social goals. Copyright 2004 ADPSR unless otherwise noted.