The ideal prison system must undoubtedly be a corollary to the ideal criminal justice system. Together, they must coexist in a perfect union, supplementing and complementing each other.
In the United States, there are two types of prison operations: the state level and the federal level. When an inmate is found guilty and sentenced to prison on the state level, the inmate is transferred into state prison. After serving time in the state prison, if the federal system has a hold on the inmate, the inmate is moved to the federal prison system. The same protocol is executed on the federal level.
The prisons are designed as a means of punishment for criminals, with the focus primarily on rehabilitating and transforming them. I have never been in a federal prison, so my writing is focused on the state prison system. My insights are based on my prison experience under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), as well as from newspaper and magazine articles and news broadcasts about other state prisons.
There are great differences in the sentencing guidelines and protocols between states. For the same crime, one state may impose a sentence of 10 years in prison while another will impose 30. Even if two states each levy a 20-year prison sentence, one state might expect the inmate to serve only half of that time, while the other state will require 85% of the time to be served. In all of this, there is virtually no rehabilitation being done; the prisoners are on their own. They are simply being warehoused.
This must change.
My ideal prison system will require that prison sentences be consistent and proportional to the crime. All inmates serve half time. Rehabilitation and spirituality are made the core elements of incarceration.
When an inmate has served half of their time, he or she must be paroled, irrespective of the nature of the crime (with a few exceptions for serial killers, serial rapists, or a one-time killer who mutilates the victim).
Upon parole, will there be repeat offenders? Definitely. That is human nature. We will always have repeat offenders.
But prisoners who are rehabilitated should be released.
Meanwhile, new prisons should be built or existing prisons set aside exclusively for repeat offenders and habitual criminals. If upon release for parole, a parolee reoffends at any time, he or she should be sent to the re-offenders prison, where they will spend the rest of their life on earth.
That, to me, is an ideal prison system.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.