[The following are the thoughts of a good friend of mine, here in federal prison camp. He has become my favorite sounding board for verifying my observations. This came up in conversation, and I asked him to write it up for your benefit.]
My prison journey commenced in 2016. Upon reporting to Butner (NC) I was overwhelmed at the process. As time passed, I became more accustomed to the policies and procedures. Also during this time, I became acquainted with various first-time offenders. The majority of these people had committed white-collar offenses. They were educated (at least a high school diploma) and raised in stable two-parent homes. The group consisted of both blacks and whites.
My personal interactions with the staff was somewhat limited. However, on those occasions where I did meet with a staff member, I found it to be demeaning and sophomoric. I felt that I was being treated as though I was in Junior High School. After talking with others, I realized that this was the typical demeanor of the staff. There is a reason for that.
The unit I lived in was mostly populated with drug offenders and others that had been in prison (state or federal) multiple times. Casual observation of these inmates (both black and white) revealed that the collective behavior was on a Jr. High level. These were men aged 19 – 70+, and they functioned on an adolescent level.
You quickly realize that there is no “Rehabilitation” in this prison system. I am aware of some training programs throughout the system, but from what I have heard, they are not very effective. This is a very broad statement because there are different programs at different institutions. Basically what I have experienced here is nothing but warehousing inmates.
An acquaintance of mine at Butner was about to be released. He was required to attend “Re-Entry” classes. During a particular class he attended, an Assist. U.S. Attorney from Raleigh, informed the participants that 67% of them would be back in prison. When I heard this I was sure he must have gotten the percentage wrong. He assured me that he did not get it wrong. Since that time, I have heard this recidivism rate repeated several times on both CNN and NPR when prison reform programs aired. My first impression was: What abject failure on the the part of prisons!
I could not understand why the government would allow such a failure to occur. Was nobody in authority paying attention? This haunted me for quite some time. Wasn’t there the responsibility to try and keep ex-offenders from coming back? One night as I lay in my bunk thinking about this issue, it struck me: What organization wouldn’t want a 67% customer retention rate? The more I thought about this, the more I thought this was one of the best business plans I had ever seen. Why rehabilitate when you can just recycle? Now, I do realize that there would be some degree of recidivism- but 67%?? CNN aired a program about prison reform in late July 2018 that stated the criminal justice system in the U.S. (including courts & law enforcement on state, county, city and federal levels) costs taxpayers $265 billion per year. Talk about a “prison industrial complex”!
With so much money to be made from incarceration, why would anyone want to change the system? Unfortunately, the average American taxpayer either, 1) doesn’t know about this, or 2) feels safe and secure and thinks it is worth the price, or 3) just doesn’t care.