I was struck by the determined, almost wilfully blind optimism in an article titled 'Making prison work, once and for all'. It refers to the situation in the UK, but it's equally applicable here in the USA. Here's an excerpt.
The prison population of England and Wales is 85,641, compared to 44,246 in 1993. Reoffending rates are 25.4 per cent. And according to the National Audit Office, reoffending costs us the equivalent of staging another Olympic Games every year.
So what can we do about it? Well, to quote another famous saying from 1990s politics: education, education, education. 2016 has got to be the year we talk seriously about skills development for high-risk populations, in prisons and after prison.
. . .
Prisoners are some of society’s most marginalised and vulnerable people, and many were let down by the education system as children. Obviously, there are dangerous criminals who belong behind bars, but there are others who, with the right rehabilitation and support, could go on to make a positive contribution to society. Making sure they have the skills to work rather than revert to crime is at the core of that.
Unfortunately some of the public prefers the "lock 'em up; throw away the key" mentality. After reports that Gove was considering bringing tablets into prisons – which the Ministry of Justice is looking into, but not confirmed – a newspaper letter writer commented that they’d only recently been able to afford an iPad. "I have never committed a crime," they wrote. "Perhaps that is where I have gone wrong".
There's more at the link.
The trouble is, this analysis is altogether too facile. It's not just that there are some "dangerous criminals who belong behind bars"; it's that so many criminals have no intention of reforming. It's too easy to make a living by stealing, dealing drugs, pimping, and so on. I wrote about this in my memoir of prison chaplaincy. The recidivism rate among US convicts is approximately 70% over five years - in other words, more than two-thirds of former prisoners will re-offend within five years of being released from incarceration. Some of that is certainly due to those concerned being unable to find a job and/or support themselves, but a lot of it is simply because they want to continue in their criminal lifestyle. They enjoy it. They find 'honest living' boring and unfulfilling. I suppose it's a bit like a top racing driver who suddenly finds himself retired and unable to drive on public roads as he did in the past on race tracks. He'd be bored stiff.
I'm afraid no amount of education or opportunity in the incarceration phase of the criminal justice system can compensate for that reality.