BY DANIEL HARRIS
The antisocial behavior of criminals is a symptom of a deeper illness that is not only the cause of crime but also the driving force behind untreated recidivism. The stated goal of incarceration should be treatment that changes the way that prisoners think, and then assists them in the transition back to freedom.
Criminals don’t view their fellow citizens as equals, only as victims to be preyed upon to provide them with better lifestyles. Changing this mindset would go a long way toward healing what is wrong with society.
Education has been proven time and again to reduce the recidivism rate in direct proportion to the amount of education a prisoner receives. It is my thought that education teaches prisoners to feel they are part of society and no longer to view society as a herd to be harvested for profit.
Why has it been made harder for prisoners to get education in Texas prisons? If rehabilitation is the true goal then education should be mandatory for all prisoners.
Since educational achievement reduces the chance that prisoners commit new crimes when released, we should reward prisoners by reducing their sentences for every educational milestone they reach. The longer your sentence, the greater the reward. Prisoners would then apply themselves and become educated, saving the state money by reducing their own sentences by their own hard work. Upon release they could become tax paying, productive citizens rather than return to prison and continue to be a burden to society. Through education, healing might take place that could improve society for all of us.
Criminals were often abused in childhood. To allow officers to continue that abuse in prison assures that prisoners leave prison more damaged and dangerous than when they arrived, and much more likely to return to prison for committing more violent crimes. Why not have guards trained to use language that is respectful? Would a respectful “mister” or a courteous “sir” undermine the guards’ authority? I don’t think so. No guard should ever get away with verbally abusing prisoners in tone of voice or in content. It’s not necessary and only causes animosity toward guards and the society that hired them.
A specific description of pre-parole conditions that made it clear what society expected each prisoner to do to be released would reduce stress levels and improve the morale of prisoners. Under such a mandate, parole would no longer be arbitrary and controlled by the unseen hands of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. We in Texas have seen parole become non-existent during the years of my incarceration. With the recent advent of Parole Consultants who can be hired to speak for those that can afford it, parole seems only for the affluent.
Whether prisoners are being released on parole or discharging their sentences the long way, the rate of recidivism would surely be reduced by creating Transitional Release Centers that provide food and shelter, free of charge, for all prisoners for the first 90 days after release. During that period prisoners would be assisted in finding a job, given free transportation to and from work, provided with clothes and tools if needed for work, and save a designated percentage of their pay. Prisoners should be exempt from all fees and taxes for the first year after release and all fines and court costs, including child support payments, until they are financially stable. At the end of the ninety days, a prisoner would be assisted in finding an apartment and have both the first and last months rent paid for him by the state. All utilities would be turned on and deposits paid to get prisoners back to being able to provide for themselves.
This may sound like a costly expense, but it would save money in the long term.
It costs about $40,000 to incarcerate a prisoner for a year. If this program had just 100 successes each year, and on average each of those helped might have otherwise returned to prison and served ten years, the savings before the cost of the program would be 100 x 10 (year saved) x $40,000.00 (cost per year) = a cost-saving of $4 million dollars. How much could ninety days of grace period and an apartment deposit cost? Doesn’t this seem worth trying?
Think how overwhelming it would be to find yourself having to come up with all these things when you had just been released from prison with nothing but the clothes on your back and some chump change? Not all prisoners have families able to help them when they get out of prison.
It comes down to a decision society has to make. We can continue to fund the broken revolving door system or spend money on a program with the potential to make a real difference. More than money might be saved. Rehabilitation saves lives. And the life you save, may be your own.
Daniel Harris is serving 35 years in Texas for Attempted Capital Murder.
We send your comments to our writers but if you’d prefer to write Daniel directly, please write to:
Daniel H. Harris #00622851
2664 FM 2054
Tennessee Colony, TX 75886