Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rehab Plan

There are many factors that affect sentencing for crimes:
Laws and legal precedents (including plea bargaining and social evaluations)
Election of judges (who often earn reelection by being harsh)
Societal prejudices (against "sex" crimes, for example)
Crowded, hurried court calendars and public-defender responsibilities
Availability of incarceration facilities (short- and long-term)

Many of these factors are complex, hard to deal with, and resistant to reform.

But there are some general principles to apply to how long a person serves in jail and deciding whether a person is ready to be released.

First: An inmate should be required to complete educational and training experiences that will better equip them for discharge. These might be general education leading to a high-school diploma or a junior college, or even college, degree. Or they might be specific education for vocational roles, for example in information technology (IT), auto mechanics, or health or emergency-service occupations. These days there are thousands of courses that can be taken on-line or through the mail, or "canned" so that they can be provided to inmates at very little cost to an institution. Many institutions have laundries, auto shops, and other "hands-on" practice resources. Individuals can also go out on tutorials or apprenticeships at the institution's expense (thereby providing valuable incentive for employers to develop such resources).

This requirement has several advantages
It outfits a person to take on a productive role in society after jail.
It facilitates an inmate's organizing personal time productively.
It demonstrates a person's expanding ability to set and meet personal goals.
It enhances an individual's self-esteem and self-confidence.

Second: An inmate should be required to have a post-incarceration job and place to live. This requires that an inmate learn to present his or her personal life story, abilities, and training/educational achievements effectively via e-mail and s-mail, and make positive connections and commitments to the outside world. (There are already organizations that serve this function, but could get more involved during inmate's prison time.)

Third: Each inmate should have a strong connection with responsible family or friends, or perhaps with a probation officer, while in jail that will continue after discharge. Discharge should be a smooth transition, not a jolt or disconnection, not a collapse of one social support system with a hopeful leap into the dark, grasping and struggling to create and hold onto another.

In the U.S. we should send fewer people to jail (especially for non-violent crimes), and for shorter sentences. But especially, any time someone spends in jail should be productive--in education and training, in learning personal organizing and self-image skills, and in forming healthy connections with post-incarceration resources.