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Before you can contribute to this discussion, you need to read the problem/solut
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Before you can contribute to this discussion, you need to read the problem/solution essay “Why Prisons Don’t Work” by Wilbert Rideau. This essay can be found in Week 3 on your Modules. As you read the essay, please note that Rideau introduces the problem in his first paragraph. The last sentence of the first paragraph is his thesis statement. His fourth paragraph is the introduction of the proposed solution. Notice the use of transitions such as “Crime is a young man’s game”, “But”, “however”, and “for example” in his fifth paragraph. The seventh paragraph is his conclusion and sums up his solution.
Write a 17-19 sentence response to Rideau’s essay. Please consider the following questions in your response. Does Rideau convince you that the belief that “permanently exiling people to prison will make society safe” is an “illusion”? Rideau believes that prisons don’t work. What solutions does he propose to the problem of escalating crime and what other solutions can you think of? What justifications, if any, for the prison system has Rideau left out of his essay? Do these omissions help or hurt his essay? Why or why not? Finally, how do you interpret the last line, “Ever see a dog chase its tail?” What do you think Rideau means by this? You must respond to two other comments to get credit for this discussion
Why Prisons Don’t Work
by Wilbert Rideau
incorrigible: incapable of reform
abhor: strongly dislike; hate
penologists: people who study prison management and criminal justice
perpetrators: one who is responsible for an action or a crime
I was among thirty-one murderers sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in
1962 to be executed or imprisoned for life. We weren’t much different from those
we found here, or those who had preceded us. We were unskilled, impulsive, and
uneducated misfits,mostly black who had done dumb, impulsive things –failures,
rejects from the larger society. Now a generation has come of age and gone since
I’ve been here, and everything is much the same as I found it. The faces of the
prisoners are different, but behind them are the same impulsive, uneducated,
unskilled minds that made dumb, impulsive choices that got them into more trouble
than they ever thought existed. The vast majority of us are consigned to suffer and
die here so politicians can sell the illusion that permanently exiling people to prison
will make society safe.
Getting tough has always been a “silver bullet,”a quick fix for the crime and
violence that society fears. Each year in Louisiana –where excess is the way of life
–lawmakers have tried to outdo each other in legislating harsher mandatory
penalties and in reducing avenues of release. The only thing to do with criminals,
they say, isget tougher. They have. In the process, the purpose of prison began
to change. The state boats one of the highest lockup rates in the country, imposes
the most severe penalties in the nation, and vies to execute more criminals per
capita than anywhere else. This state is so tough that last year, when prison
authorities here wanted to punish an inmate in solitary confinement for a infraction,
the most they could inflict on him wasto deprive him of his underwear. It was all
he had left.
If getting tough resulted in public safety, Louisiana citizens would be the
safest in the nation. They’re not. Louisiana has the highest murder rate among
states. Prison, like the police and the courts, has a minimal impact on crime
because it is a response afterthe fact, a mop-up operation. It doesn’t work. The
idea of punishing the few to deter the many is counterfeit because potential
criminals either think they’re not going to get caught or they’re so emotionally
desperate or psychologically distressed that they don’t care about the consequences
of their actions. The threatened punishment, regardless of the severity, is never a
factor in the equation. But society, like the incorrigible criminal it abhors, is unable
to learn from its mistakes.
Prison has a role in public safety, but it is not a cure-all. Its value is limited,
and its use should also be limited to what it does best: isolating young criminals
long enough to give them a chance to grow up and get a grip on their impulses. It
is a traumatic experience, certainly, but it should be only a temporary one, not a
way of life. Prisoners kept too long tend to embrace the criminal culture, its
distorted values and beliefs; they have little choice –prison is their life. There are
some prisoners who cannot be returned to society –serial killers, serial rapists,
professional hit men, and the like –but the monsters who need to die in prison are
rare exceptions in the criminal landscape.
Crime is a young man’s game. Most of the nation’s random violence is
committed by young urban terrorists. But becauseof long, mandatory sentences,
most prisoners here are much older, having spent fifteen, twenty, thirty, or more
years behind bars, long past necessity. Rather than pay for new prisons, society
would be well served by releasing some of its older prisoners who pose no threat
and using the money to catch young street thugs. Warden John Whitley agrees
that many older prisoners here could be freed tomorrow with little or no danger to
society. Release, however, is governed by law or by politicians, not by penal
professionals. Even murderers, those most feared by society, pose little risk.
Historically, for example, the domestic staff at Louisiana’s Governor’s mansion has
been made up of murderers, handpicked to work among the chief-of-state and his
family. Penologists have long known that murder is almostalways a once-in-a-
lifetime act. The most dangerous criminal is the one who has not yet killed but has
a history of escalating offense. He’s the one to watch.
Rehabilitation can work. Everyone changes in time. The trick is to influence
the direction that change takes. The problem with prisons is that they don’t do
more to rehabilitatethose confined in them. The convict who enters prison illiterate
willprobably leave the same way. Most convicts want to be better than they are,
but education is not a priority. This prison houses 4,000 men offers academic
training to 240, vocational training to a like number. Perhapsit doesn’t matter.
About 90 percent of the men here may never leave this prison alive.
The only effective way to curb crime is for society to work to prevent the
criminal act in the first place, to come betweenthe perpetrator and crime. Our
youngsters must be taught to respect the humanity of others and to handle
disputes without violence. It is essential to educate and equip them with the skills
to pursue their life ambitions in a meaningful way. As a community, we must
address the adverse life circumstances that spawn criminality. Thesethings are not
quick, and they’re not easy, but they’re effective. Politicians think that’s too hard a
sell. They want to be on record for doing something now, something they can point
to at reelectiontime. So the drumbeat goes on for more police, more prisons,
more of the same failed policies.
Ever see a dog chase its tail?
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