According to columnist Rich Lowry, prisoners “should be required” to work in prison and “shouldn’t be denied occupational licenses” after prison. These are praiseworthy goals, but I have a quibble.
My frame of reference is this: I have toured Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville and Altiplano 1, a maximum security prison in Mexico housing some of that country’s most dangerous drug traffickers.
(Lieber Correctional Institution is named for Franz “Francis” Lieber, a German immigrant who taught at USC from 1835 to 1856 and who translated from French to English Tocqueville’s “On the Penitentiary System in the United States” , a classic emphasizing the importance and limits of rehabilitative efforts in prisons.)
Lieber and Altiplano 1 offer educational programs, religious services, and Lieber has three inmate work programs (transmission rebuilding, tire retreading, and a woodshop).
My quibble: Programs are not “done” (passive voice); rather, talented, motivated, thinking and public-supported employees achieve programs despite the political headwinds that Lowry mentions.
The prison sector, like dotcoms or any other industry, needs to attract top talent, and only by doing so will it have a shot providing humane incarceration and effective rehabilitation programs.
Prison workers are selfless and hardy.
They risk their safety, just as police officers do, and some suffer the added indignity of having human excrement thrown on them.
Yet there is no prison-sector equivalent of a “backing the blue” campaign, and the sector itself suffers from an image problem.
Many of the cadets I teach in the Criminal Justice program at The Citadel see the sector as a career choice of second (or last) option, and favor more exciting career prospects in policing, intelligence or counterterrorism.
One reason this attitude might be mistaken is, as Lowry correctly argues, “Prison is one of the most important institutions in American life.”
“Deplorable” is the only word to describe the Mexican prison system as a whole.
Mexico has a per capita murder rate four times that of the United States, a per capita incarceration rate 40 percent that of the United States, and many prisons are unsecure and inhumane.
But this precarious security situation has focused the minds of some Mexican prison administrators, who wisely argue that there is no amount of money they can offer a prison official not to be corrupted by drug cartels.
Instead, these leaders argue for workplace pride-instilling personnel initiatives, including an emphasis on organizational identity conveyed through logos and rituals, newly-painted and clean work facilities, and a managerial and societal message that prison work is safe, valued, socially-important and dignified.
An emphasis on attracting and motivating top prison personnel, by whatever means, is necessary and will make or break Lowry’s laudable suggestions for rehabilitation programs.
Department of Criminal Justice
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