By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
Prisons have an important role in our criminal justice system. They house a wide range of offenders who are incarcerated for various crimes and for various lengths of time.
One of the best ways that prisons can protect citizens from crime, reduce violence within the prison and transform the lives of inmates is through effective rehabilitation programs. Effective rehabilitation programs within prisons are important. Not only do they teach inmates a sense of self-worth, but they can also help inmates acquire new skills that can be applied to starting a new life following their release from prison and provide purposeful life goals.
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Prison Rehabilitation Needs to Address the Issues that Led to Inmate Incarceration
Rehabilitating inmates reduces the risk of convicted felons returning to the life of crime that initially led them to prison. However, robust rehabilitation should not only provide life skills and vocational training and education to help inmates gain future employment, but should also address the underlying issues that led to incarceration in the first place.
For example, prison rehabilitation must unmask, address, and mitigate inmate problems such as drug addiction, alcohol addiction, anger problems, or mental illness. Resolving these problems enables inmates to overcome their personal problems, which will then enable them to properly function within society once they are released.
In studying prisons both in the United States and abroad, I have found that faith-based prison rehabilitation programs are the most effective. They have a meaningful impact in providing tools to inmates to help them overcome the underlying problems, such as anger or addictions, that plague inmates.
Faith-based prison rehabilitation programs also provide inmates with a new world view that can help them overcome the challenges that they will inevitably experience when they return to society. These programs providing inmates with a sense of purpose and an awareness of a greater power than themselves.
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Dignity and Respect from Prison Staff Also Play an Important Role in Inmate Rehabilitation
When it is effective, rehabilitation can help inmates to separate themselves from the outside influences and environmental factors that caused them to travel down a criminal path. But effective rehabilitation cannot occur if inmates are not treated by prison staff with dignity and respect.
Mutual respect between inmates and staff is essential. It breaks down barriers and enables inmates to look at rehabilitation programs with an open mind instead of assuming a defensive attitude.
Helping inmates develop the skills that they can use for later employment is also an important part of prison rehabilitation. Often, inmates can learn electrical work, plumbing, farming and other vocational skills while they are incarcerated.
Some Rehabilitation Programs Have Been Proven to Reduce Prisoner Recidivism
There are various programs that have been proven to be effective when they are used in partnership with prisons. For example, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program in Texas has a 7.5% recidivism rate, meaning that only 7.5% of inmates who go through their program return to prison.
That rate is exceptionally low, considering that the Harvard Political Review states that the recidivism rate in the United States is as high as 76.6%. In other words, over three-quarters of U.S. prisoners are rearrested within five years of their release.
The Prison Entrepreneurship Program uses innovative programs to connect the nation’s top entrepreneurs, executives, and MBA students with convicted felons. They utilize an entrepreneurship boot camp and re-entry programs that improve inmate self-sufficiency and teach inmates servant leadership, integrity, and innovation.
Community Bridges is another organization that helps former inmates. This Arizona organization helps convicted felons with mental illnesses to obtain treatment plans, employment and housing options upon release.
Another business that supports convicted felon rehabilitation is The Last Mile in California, which teaches inmates skills in technology, digital communication and computer coding. Having these skills can provide lucrative employment for former inmates when they are no longer incarcerated.
Another very successful organization that has changed the lives of many prison inmates is Hope for Prisoners. Hope for Prisoners was originally founded by Jon Ponder, a remarkable leader who was once a prisoner himself.
While in prison, Mr. Ponder educated himself, grew spiritually toward God and prepared himself for the day he would return home. His organization provides comprehensive re-entry services to those who are returning to the community after incarceration.
Hope for Prisoners has various rehabilitation programs that transform the lives of inmates. They can be better prepared to be leaders of themselves, leaders of their families and leaders within their community.
These goals are accomplished through substance abuse treatment, vocational and educational opportunities, intensive case management, and long-term mentoring. Hope for Prisoners has a low rate of recidivism – only 6%.
Prisons Aren’t Just for Housing Convicted Felons, But Can Also Provide Essential Rehabilitation for Inmates
Prisons have a much greater role than simply housing convicted felons. By prisons providing meaningful rehabilitation and partnering with the many great organizations around the country that provide services to help inmates, inmates greatly improve their chances of successful reintegration into society.