Prisons: A Channel for Punishment, not Rehabilitation

In a utopian society, incarceration might be a viable option for rehabilitating people who may be accused or convicted of a crime. However, in reality, it does not work. An article published by the American Psychological Association indicates that the repellent condition of prisons reduces the likelihood for prisoners’ rehabilitation. One of the explanations for this is that many of those who are incarcerated develop mental health challenges. A study done by the U.S. Department of Justice shows that in 2006, “64 percent of local jail inmates, 56 percent of state prisoners and 45 percent of federal prisoners have symptoms of serious mental illnesses,” which is far greater than the figure experts had previously estimated, 20 percent. Psychologists, who are the primary mental health care providers in many prisons, often provide rehabilitative services as well. An example is a program that aims to transition prisoners back into society. Unfortunately, not only is there a limited number of healthcare professionals in prison, but they are also frequently preoccupied with inmates’ mental health needs that they would have little or no time to provide rehabilitative services. Even worse, the number of people receiving mental health care in federal prisons steadily decreased after 2014, ironically following a Federal Bureau of Prisons policy that promised to improve care for people with mental health needs.

As they stand right now, jails operate to punish rather than rehabilitate prisoners. The Stanford Prison Experiment, a classic experiment spearheaded by Philip Zimbardo, demonstrated that “prisons dehumanize people, turning them into objects and instilling in them feelings of hopelessness.” Critics may call the experiment rife with ethical and replicability issues, but they would be remiss if they overlook Zimbardo’s conclusion. Prisons undoubtedly impose consequences on the wellbeing of prisoners. In 1995, the National Institute of Corrections reported that “the rate of suicide in prisons throughout the country was 20.6 deaths per 100,000 inmates. In addition, states with small prison populations appear to have exceedingly high rates of suicide — often more than two and one-half times the national average.” Furthermore, the rate of mental illness of the prison population is “at least three times the national average.”

The incentive to retain, as opposed to discharge, prisoners is high for businesses. Ranging from healthcare to clothing companies, there is a resounding consensus: jails equal profit. For example, Ahmad Afzal, whose company, Fine Cotton Textiles, produces prison jumpsuits, underwear and suicide safety smocks, remarked that “[b]usiness is very good.” Additionally, Todd Murphy, a high-profile representative of Correctional Medical Group Companies (CMGC), the largest private healthcare provider to prisons in California, said that “[b]usiness for us is terrific.” With all of these in mind, I believe that it would take an expulsion of greed and infinite amount of resources to make prison rehabilitative by nature. But this is merely a wishful thinking.

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