Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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A case for prison reform

Prisoners don’t need teddy bears and lullabies every night. They don’t need comfy beds or cable television. What they need is a prison system that can actually help them on the way to rejoining society.

Making big rocks into little ones and using a metal press to fashion license plates for 40 cents an hour is widely considered rehabilitation in our country. Although, it does not seem to be any way to turn hardened criminals away from crime. Prison reform is an important, and often overlooked, issue in our nation. Incarcerated individuals ought to serve their time in a place so uncomfortable they never want to return; at the same time, there should be some services offered in prison which provide prisoners with an opportunity to choose some other lifestyle than crime.

Rehabilitation is the stated goal of every prison system in this country, from the federal level to city and county jails; however, today, right now, there are more people behind bars than there have been at any time in American history. Many of the people in prison today are repeat offenders in jail for the second or third time. There has to be some lasting form of rehabilitation in order to keep inmates from returning.

Declining crime rates are the wondrous result of a tremendous bi-partisan effort and cannot be praised enough. Since the late 1980s, it has been popular for public figures to support lengthening sentences and tougher crime laws. Anyone who disagrees with these stricter measures does so at their own peril, as the phrase “soft on crime” will surely be appended to their name and sound the death knell of a political career. The fall of crime rates is a great thing if you believe our criminal justice system effectively removes the right criminals and returns them to society changed for the better. I certainly do not.

If the system worked, there would not be a need for a “three strikes and you’re out” law. There would be no one going to jail and serving a long prison term for having an ounce of pot. There would be no discrepancy in sentencing for a black man possessing crack and a white man possessing cocaine. There would be no innocent people put to death, and mentally ill people would not be on death row at all.

No, the criminal justice system does not work the way it is supposed to, and the prison system hardly works at all.

Politicians — generally Democrats — give speeches on prison reform at campaign rallies and fundraisers, where they speak with a level of reverence and earnestness that begs to be believed. In reality, these are nothing more than cursory orations rank with apathy, which are only rolled out when conviction-free officials are in the company of human-rights activists. Don’t get me wrong, Republicans would never consider this an issue at all; at least Democrats pay it lip service.

Our federal government has budgeted over $4.5 billion for the department of corrections this year. Wisconsin has budgeted just over $1 billion for its own prison needs (I hope everyone sees the proportionality problem with this statistic). I am completely dumbfounded as to how elected officials can spend so much money on a perpetually flawed system and hope to “correct” anything.

Being imprisoned should be a difficult experience without a doubt; it should be impacting in such a way as to deter future crime. The prison system as a whole should be a way to rid the community of criminal behavior and, for a while, the criminals themselves. To begin reforming the actions of inmates, the corrections system itself should be reformed.

James P. Kent ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in economics and business management.

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