Ask The Audience: Prisons

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

I am a graduate student in the field of Criminal Justice and have given lots of thought to your Ask the Audience question. What it really boils down to is, as your reader states, is the politics. Throughout my education every professor in every class that dealt with corrections reform stated the obvious. They had to because regardless of their personal philosophy, the data doesn't lie.

First, you have to decriminalize most illegal drugs. You cannot have a serious argument about reducing prison population without this on the table. Second, as another reader mentioned, most incarcerated offenders are either mentally ill or substance abusers. Third, merely adding police officers and especially adding SWAT-type tactics to local police forces hinders more than it helps.

In theory, the options are pretty easy. Decriminalize and regulate drugs. Use the revenue to boost treatment centers in communities. Raise the pay of corrections officers so that the flow of contraband is lessened. Put more educators and therapists in the prison budget instead of increasing the number of guards. Train local police forces in community policing tactics rather than strict enforcement. Reform the current parole system to give those coming back into the community a reasonable shot at success.

In reality, you need to convince the public, sure. But just show them the numbers. What we are currently doing obviously doesn't work. I think Governor Schwarezenegger said it best: we don't need to be hasty or drastic, but we need to have all options on the table.