Recidivism rate shows MN prisons are failing to rehabilitate

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You can call this a follow-up to the “Rush City Prison Promotes Violence” piece I wrote [MSR, Aug. 18]. I was approached by a corrections officer who wanted to say that they actually thought the article was “impressive,” but I failed to highlight some of the issues that the corrections officers face. 

I am a person that has been cursed with empathy, and I am also a student of logic. So in all honesty, there are multiple sides to this complex story. 

One thing that all sides need to understand is that the ultimate goal of the Department of Corrections is to rehabilitate citizens that commit crimes. The recidivism rate would tell you that rehabilitation is not a focus in the D.O.C., that the rehabilitative “efforts” by the D.O.C. are grossly inefficient, like a 90%+ failure rate.

 It’s almost as if failure is the desired goal. We are in America, and there is nothing that would get in the way of us achieving success. We went to the moon, people—the moon, in outer space. 

So if the true goal of the D.O.C. is to rehabilitate, then why has it failed? We as a country can count on our hands how many failures we allow to go uncorrected. So my question is why?

Revisiting the correction officers’ “concerns” with how I painted all correctional officers (C​O​​s) in a negative light, I did state that “not all COs are corrupt.” But I admit that it’s not much good said in my article regarding staff. 

There are COs that are really good people, with the best intentions. The problem is that when there is staff that treats us like human beings, with empathy or understanding, then those officers face backlash. They’re overlooked for promotions, often staying at the level of officer. 

Some make it to sergeant, but when it comes to moving up to the levels of lieutenant, captain, or associate warden, where you can make a salary of $100,000+, it becomes mostly achievable by writing a lot of inmates up, having a high number of bodies that you put in segregation, or being connected to those that are in power. 

It becomes political like any corporately structured institution. Nice guys finish last is a real thing. 

I’m not saying that all people that move up in the ranks did so by means stated above either. There are people in administrative positions that are people of good character, but they can only work with what the D.O.C. provides them, and no rehabilitative direction leaves many employees to implement their own interpretation of their duties. That’s a problem.

As a citizen, if you came to work in prison with people that are in for committing serious crimes, how do you think you would treat inmates? It’s natural to feel that you should punish them. 

Do you feel that you should establish dominance? Do you feel that you should be like a drill sergeant? Would you lock them in their cells for 22-23 hours a day? Sounds like a zoo, huh? 

Crime is a disruption of civility in our communities, and those that commit crimes should face the consequences of their actions. But the responsibility is to change their criminal mindset with the aid or guidance of the many correctional facilities in our country. 

Crime is not pretty, it’s often repulsive, and we are a society that is very big on punishment for committing crimes, so it is easy not to care how a “criminal” is treated during incarceration. He/she deserves to suffer like their victims, right? 

Wrong! You have to take your personal feelings out of it. Stop the witch hunt mentality we often adopt when we feel a wrong has been done. 

If a criminal comes to prison to become a better criminal or a worse human, then what is the criminal justice system for? A system to quench our personal thirst for revenge? Crime is a learned behavior. Some people are born into crime, destined by their environment, but people that commit crimes are not crimes in themselves. Crime is an action.

People that commit crime are broken, and broken people need help. The D.O.C. does not do enough in aiding in rehabilitation. This is FACT. Staff should be trained in rehabilitative practices similar to rehab for drug addictions. 

Correctional officers come to work with the misguided belief that their job is to be tough on inmates, enforcing unlimited rules, asserting dominance by any means with complete control over the facility for “security reasons.” Where does rehabilitation come in? It doesn’t. 

Humility is taboo in here, often viewed as being “soft” on inmates. They are told that inmates are manipulative, untrustworthy, criminals waiting to take advantage of you. This is the mindset of most corrections officers. 

This approach is one of the main reasons for failed rehabilitation. It’s an “us” against “them” environment, and COs set the tone in here.

Who are the losers? ALL OF US. Inmates, their families, their/your communities, future victims, and taxpayers. It costs taxpayers more in our current system than it would in a system structured around rehabilitation. 

What’s more important for society? To punish without resolution or to work with inmates to help change the behavior that got them here, giving them a chance to actually give back to their community, thus creating a better environment for future generations? Some people don’t even know where to start in regard​s​ to change. 

In my 16 years of incarceration, the hardest thing I’ve had to do is change and maintain it. You have to literally reprogram your brain, meticulously scrutinizing every view and belief that you acquired through your life, and replace them with new ones. 

It is a process that is very hard to achieve on your own. There will be a lot of setbacks and obstacles. Relentless help is what inmates need, not the current “help” that the D.O.C. offers. It’s not enough—true help of the humanitarian kind is needed. We are not all irredeemable.

Understand that the judge already passed judgment, and it’s no one else’s place to judge. How do we administer true justice while satisfying our need for retribution? The same thing we want our inmates to do…change.

Alonzo Graham #212738, Rush City Prison 

One Comment on “Recidivism rate shows MN prisons are failing to rehabilitate”

  1. Mr. Graham makes good points. I would add that even if prison wasn’t about punishment, it is still punishment for those that are imprisoned. Adding good rehabilitative programming would help remediate the punishing aspects of being locked-up.

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