In the federal prison system of early 2019, a huge disconnect exists between administrative platitudes and the policies by which prisoners must live. Often, those discrepancies hinder individuals who are striving to prepare for law-abiding lives upon release. Prison reforms could and should bring the expressed concern for rehabilitation into harmony with the rules that govern prison life. In so doing, such reforms would make a gigantic advancement toward lowering recidivism rates.
At the prison where I am held, for example, administrators post signs that prominently tout their commitment to preparing offenders for successful re-entry. I do not find such noble sentiments consistent with the infrastructure through which all prisoners must contend. Don't get me wrong; the prison is an easy spot to serve time. Yet rather than an emphasis on preparing offenders for re-entry, I find policies that further alienate offenders who struggle to prepare for law-abiding lives.
In The Second Chance Act of 2007, congress made findings suggesting that inmates with strong family and community ties would be the most likely to succeed upon release. To nurture such ties, inmates would have to rely upon telephones, visits, and written correspondence. Rather than encouraging prisoners to make the most of such services, administrative policies block and restrict access to each of the three mechanisms inmates could use to connect with family and community.
Specifically, inmates may not talk on the telephone for longer than an average of 10 minutes per day. They may not spend more than a maximum of seven hours per week visiting; they would only be allowed to nurture ties through those seven hours if their visitors agreed to travel to the prison on Fridays, during work and school hours. Administrators prohibit inmates from using typewriters to nurture family and community ties through correspondence.
Prison reforms ought to eliminate the discrepancies between stated policies that encourage community ties, with the actual policies that hindered prisoners from sustaining relationships with law-abiding citizens. Those relationships could motivate prisoners to serve their time responsibly and help ease the prisoners' transition upon release.
Prison administrators create a cruel obstacle with their rules that block successful adjustments. It is as if they suggest inmates swim through the turbulent waters of confinement, but shackle heavy steel balls to their legs. Prison reforms should, at the very least, provide paths through which all prisoners could earn more access to telephone time, visits, and technologies that would facilitate efforts to nurture community ties.
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