Norway has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world at 20%. The U.S. has one of the highest: 76.6% of prisoners are rearrested within five years.Harvard Poltical Review

It seems to me there are three purposes to prisons: They are clearly essential for public safety, to keep criminals away from the rest of us. Prisons serve the need to punish those who break laws; there has to be consequence to criminality, especially violence. In our current system, every judge’s sentence includes time behind bars for the sake of public safety and time for punishment in the form of deprivation of freedom. But the third piece — rehabilitation — is less emphasized, and that’s a huge and costly mistake for society. Read my Sun column today and you’ll see what I mean. When you consider the number of repeat violent offenders on the streets of Baltimore and other cities, consider the role prisons play in the criminal justice system. Within the system, a typical violent criminal spends most of his time not in police custody, not in the local detention center, not in court, but in prison. To have someone in the state’s custody for years, even decades — to have, literally, a captive audience — and not do everything possible to change that person’s life outlook is a waste of time and public money. The American prisons need to be demolished, rebuilt and reimagined with heavy emphasis on inmate therapy to achieve much better outcomes.

4 thoughts on “What’s the purpose of our prisons?

  1. Dan,
    I agree with all you say on the topic of prison reform/prisoner rehabilitation. But see if you agree this one thing must be added: Combating recidivism through holistic rehabilitation
    Over the past 35 years, the Transcendental Meditation technique has been taught to inmates and guards in some of America’s toughest prisons, including San Quentin, Folsom and Walpole, with dramatic benefit. Key results include:
    More than a 30% reduction in recidivism rates
    Fewer rule infractions in prison
    Less criminal thinking, psychological distress and trauma symptoms
    Decreased anxiety, depression, fatigue and anger
    Increased spiritual well-being, optimism and purposefulness

    Read much more about it at the DavidLynchFoundation(dotorg) website.


  2. Dan, if you have seen the videos at the David Lynch Foundation, I’m sure you’re blown away by the tremendous good TM in the prisons has done and will do. I taught Transcendental Meditation classes to 120 women prisoners at the Women’s Prison (Presídio de Mulheres) in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, in 1975. One of the amazing stories from my experience there: At the end of a group class held the day after the women received personal instruction in TM, some of the prisoners came up to me and said (in Portuguese, of course): “You know that woman that sat in that chair, and that other woman who sat in that other chair over there? Well before today, they could not be in the same room together without trying to kill each other. The fact that they sat peacefully in the same room today was amazing, but the fact that they sat in this room together and closed their eyes is a miracle!”


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