Turning Prisons into Transformation Centers

Brief History of the Prison System Part 1:

Derived from the concept of “penitence” over two hundred years ago, Quakers and reformers in Pennsylvania developed the institution of the penitentiary. Its purpose was for sinners to engage in hard labor and think about what they had done (Mauer, 2006). The first inmate admitted to the Eastern State Penitentiary (the first penitentiary) “was a ‘light-skinned Negro in excellent health’, described by an observer as ‘one who was born of a degraded and depressed race and had never experienced anything but indifference and harshness’” (Mauer, 2006). In 1932, there were currently at least 1,500 addicts in federal prisons. Today, there are more than two million inmates in prisons or jails, more than half of which are drug-related offenses.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 61,000 (16%) of convicted jail inmates committed their offense to get money for drugs. Two-thirds of convicted inmates were actively involved with drugs prior to their admission to jail (Mayer, 2006). Texas completed an exhaustive study of its felony sentencing patterns and found that the most frequent crime resulting in a prison sentence was drug possession (22%), followed by burglary (20%), theft and fraud (20%), and drug delivery (15%) (Austin & Irwin, 2001).

Brief History of the Prison System Part 2:

In the 1950’s, psychology and the medical model set the stage for a prison system that was focused on correcting the individual and not society. “Prisoners were to be ‘rehabilitated’ through new scientific methods” (Austin & Irwin, 2001). The term “correctional facility” replaced the name reformatory, parole boards and intermediate sanctioning were created, and the modern prison and jail system began to take shape. In the seventies, after a couple of decades spent trying to rehabilitate the criminal, the general attitude was that nothing worked. Social scientists who studied the results of rehabilitation came to the conclusion that sentences were increased and many inhumane programs and routines were practiced (Austin & Irwin, 2001).

To everyone concerned, rehabilitation was an expensive failure. Society and government policymakers gave up on rehabilitating criminals and began warehousing them once more. Today, we are a society bent on incapacitation and retribution and we continue to stubbornly hold on to the idea that nothing works, but we are on the frontier of a new era that might force us to reexamine the way we approach crime and criminals, not because we have had a change of heart, but because we have no other choice. The opioid epidemic has become a nightmare worse than we have ever experienced in the history of American drug addiction. It is affecting everyone, everywhere, and it is only a matter of time before someone you know and love will be touched by it if you have not been already.

A Solution Right In Front Of Us:

The prison industrial complex has thrived for years, profiting off the war on drugs. It was inevitable that the system would collapse under its own weight since the increase in drug addiction in the United States parallels the population increase, an increase in drug addiction increases crime, which increases arrests, and so on and so forth. The simple fact is that the jail and prison system in the United States must adapt its model to include a modern healthcare approach to the criminalization of addiction.

Currently, there stands empty, former penitentiary complexes that can easily be turned into modern penitentiary transformation centers with very little effort or governmental financial resources. In the same way, private industries transformed the prison system into the modern day prison industrial complex, the private healthcare industry can help transform unused penitentiary buildings into the modern day healthcare industrial complex. The key factor in creating these new transformation centers across America is to invite the private healthcare industry leaders that have experience in creating large treatment facilities to work with the government to establish a modern type of addiction rehabilitation center that does more than the failed, half-hearted attempts at turning parts of prisons into drug treatment centers that exists today.

It Starts With Just One:

Addiction treatment has advanced to the point where the original intent of the penitentiary system has been lost, and change must be made to keep up with the times. all it takes is one carefully organized, healthcare designed, empty prison, turned into a functional, effective treatment center to set the stage for change.

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