Law and order. Our society thrives on it. Police investigate and courts try and sentence suspects – sometimes for a short stint, sometimes for years. Most prisons offer GED and some college classes, but are prisoners truly ready and able to integrate back into society after they serve their time?
How do inmates fare in prison — emotionally, mentally, physically? Do prisons engender post-prison success? Or do we set them up to fail, again and again – does the prison system create recidivism?
Abandonment of the Pennsylvania system
Founded in Philadelphia, the nineteenth century Pennsylvania prison system espoused penitence and rehabilitation. Designed by peace-loving Quakers, the system focused on solitary confinement with no intermingling among prisoners. The goal was for prisoners to focus on being penitent (thus the name penitentiary) and return to society contrite and with renewed regard for fellow citizens.
For a variety of reasons – some say cost, others cited the lack of punishment – prisons quickly abandoned it in favor of the Auburn system.
The Auburn system – a recipe for abuse
Cat o’nine tails, hot-boxing, water torture, deference and silence: this was the focus of the Auburn system – developed in Auburn, New York – and is the model for our modern current penal system. The idea behind Auburn was simple: you committed a crime; you are therefore unworthy. Unworthy of respect, kind treatment and even forgiveness.
Torture is now outlawed in prisons; but is our modern system much different?
America spends far more on imprisonment than most industrialized countries. Rather than counseling and education, American prisons, instead focus on punitive measures: prisoners are demeaned by wearing prison uniforms, adhering to a strict schedule and having little freedom in how they spend their day.
This regimentation does not translate into real-world society and upon release, at a minimum, prisoners lack time management and organizational skills. Treated as a sub-human, they respond in kind by acting like one. Thus, their prison socialization engenders the same behavior that led to their incarceration in the first place.