With the percentage of Americans imprisoned, this is likely the tip of the iceberg. Yet many people wear blinders as they continue to insist that simply handing out longer and tougher minimum sentences and increasing maximum penalties to the death penalty makes our country safer.
This is what conditions are like at one of California's best prisons, the California Rehabilitation Center: Built to hold 1,800 inmates, it now bulges with more than 4,700 and is under nearly constant lockdown to prevent fights.
Portions of the buildings, which date to the 1920s, are so antiquated that the electricity is shut off during rainstorms so the prisoners aren't electrocuted. The facility's once-vaunted drug rehab program has a three-month-long waiting list, and the prison is short 75 guards.
Overcrowded detention centers are more likely to serve as fermenting vats for violence than they are to serve as neutralizing zones. As a rape survivor, I am in no way weak on crime. My training related to being a volunteer victim's advocate taught me many complexities about the criminal justice system that I had never considered and which can't fit into sound bites used by politicians to market their accomplishments.
The problem with many rehabilitation programs that aren't as crowded as this one in California is they only evaluate success in controlled environments and have no way of monitoring and mentoring criminals as they attempt to build crime-free lives, either because of design flaws or lack of funding.
In most non-violent offenses related to addiction or crimes committed because people don't feel they have a legitimate way of making a living, it would be cheaper to provide help to these offenders as soon as possible.
But we shouldn't let an absense of "an attitude of gratitude" on the part of defendants or prisoners make us think they are past helping. People who have learned that help and opportunities will be retracted as quickly as they are offered, often by people who have no clue about the situations these offenders have faced in their lives, are not going to be quick to trust those who say they want to help them.
Just like in medicine, prevention is more effective and cheaper than waiting until your life is in immediate danger. We need to get over the idea that criminals don't deserve to have anything positive given to them.
We also need to recognize which criminals pose too great of a risk to ever release into society again. If someone has a craving for murder like some of us have a craving for chocolate, no combination of electronic and personal monitoring system is going to provide sufficient protection.
Technorati tags: crime politics