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Three Words to Live by: Knowledge is Power

I’ve always had a profound love of sayings and proverbs in language. Few are as to-the-point and thought-provoking as this one: Knowledge is power.

The pursuit of knowledge opens so many doors. It gives us power over our lives and futures, the ability to learn from the past, the ability to learn about others and the world around us and the opportunity to pass on what we’ve learned to others.

On top of that, knowledge (to be more precise, education) staves off stagnation and helps break cycles that impede individual progress.

One of the most crippling and vicious cycles facing our nation is recidivism. Unfortunately, our jails and prisons bear the brunt of this, as they house millions of reoffenders each year.

We know that the temptations for inmates to continue engaging in behavior that put them behind bars in the first place are strong. But we also know that empowering inmates with the means to education counteracts those temptations, making the road to rehabilitation smoother.

Education and rehabilitation are practically one and the same; it’s tough to imagine one without the other. And in their darkest hour, unfettered access to information and academic literature provides inmates with a beacon of hope.

Frankly, the collective effort to combat recidivism starts from within—specifically, within the walls of our correctional facilities.

Three brothers—Cole, James and Robert Younger—recognized that knowledge is power as far back as 1887. Thanks to the Youngers, that year saw the birth of America’s oldest active prison newspaper, The Prison Mirror. Their story is nothing short of remarkable.

Just 10 years earlier, the trio led lives of crime alongside fellow outlaw Jesse James (Maybe you’ve heard of him). Together, they formed the James-Younger Gang. After their involvement in an armed bank robbery that went awry, the Younger brothers were tracked down and jailed.

Having barely dodged a death sentence and serving life in the then-Minnesota State Prison, they sought to redefine their legacy. Each of them worked their way up and obtained resume-building jobs in the prison. Eventually, this led to a love of literature and a desire to launch a newspaper.

While others had a hand in The Prison Mirror, it was the Youngers’ name recognition and funding that made the publication possible. It’s believed that one thing convinced them most: The lion’s share of the profits would be put back into the Minnesota State Prison’s library.

The rest, as they say, is history.

This revolutionary idea came at a time when inmates were underserved and often ignored. Today, the need for education in our correctional system is just as pressing. We at Encartele have highlighted the importance of prison libraries in encouraging intellectual curiosity among inmates in past articles.

When we think of structures that exist to educate, we automatically think of schools and public libraries. We attend schools and visit libraries to advance our job prospects and expand our knowledge.

If rehabilitation of inmates is the ultimate goal, why shouldn’t they be afforded that same right?

In “Books beyond bars: the transformative potential of prison libraries”, author Lisa Krolak asks that very question. She argues that prison libraries should functionally be no different than any other library.

Krolak explains, “It is important that the prison library is a special space, separate from the rest of the prison, where inmates can experience an inspiring, creative atmosphere different to their everyday cell life.”

How tangible is the impact when education is emphasized in correctional settings?

One study cited in “Books beyond bars” revealed that inmates provided with an opportunity for sustained learning were 43 percent less likely to wind up back behind bars.

For perspective, a 2018 report from the U.S. Department of Justice indicated that nearly 45 percent of former inmates are arrested no more than a year after release.  

The evidence suggests that as access to informational resources for inmates goes up, recidivism goes down. And if that’s the case, it’s about time the phrase “knowledge is power” echoes in every hall and housing unit of jails and prisons across the country.

Looking for similar content? Check out our FREE content library for inmate rehabilitation here!  

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Articles Correctional Insights Recidivism

Connection Prevents Inmates from Developing a Criminal Identity – Here’s Why

Any student of history knows that functioning societies and verbal communication are inextricably linked. Whether we’re talking about skyscrapers or social bonds, without verbal communication, humans would have never succeeded in building anything. Our ability to communicate is an integral part of our identity. However, in the absence of communication, a criminal identity can take the place of a functional identity.

Thanks to our ever-growing digital landscape, more traditional forms of communication have been taken for granted. Why make a phone call when it’s more convenient to share the same information via text, email or social media?

Technological progress has made it possible for us to communicate in ways that don’t involve a true vocal exchange. The consequence of which is a dramatic social shift that has forever changed human interaction.

Nevertheless, the most tried-and-true method for getting a message across, resolving conflict or reinforcing social ties is speaking face to face or by phone. Take the workplace for example.

A 2020 study done by SocialChorus revealed that 73 percent of survey respondents believe effective workplace communication promotes a healthier culture, inevitably leading to stronger worker mental health.

Meaningful communication gives us a sense of belonging and validation. It’s vital to our emotional, mental and social wellness. Though many of us don’t think about it, the same is true for inmates in our jail and prison systems.

Countless studies have shown that regular contact with loved ones, whether through visitation or phone calls, creates positive stimulation for those behind bars.

Picture of an inmate being lent a hand to make a connection. That connection, in the form of familial contact, will help preempt the development of criminal identity.

The upshot of this is inmates are less likely to violate rules while serving their sentence or, more importantly, reoffend at some point. Encouraging inmates to maintain communication with their families leads to positive short-term and long-term effects. In the short term, correctional environments are safer and in the long term, reintegration is often smoother. As researchers Michael Rocque, David Bierie, and Doris MacKenzie put it, socialization lowers the chances inmates will develop a criminal identity while confined.

Conversely, an inmate who’s unable to speak frequently with loved ones is liable to smuggle contraband into the facility—namely, cellphones. And as technology continues to progress, illicit access to mobile phones will be considerably easier for inmates.

An inmate who introduces contraband to a correctional environment is likely to continue this behavior, thereby taking on a criminal identity.

Along with facilitating communication between inmates and their families, the need for modernized options is fundamental to rehabilitation efforts as well.

With the increased push towards virtual and online services, correctional institutions will need to keep pace. Ensuring security and making every effort not to disrupt existing family ties should be a top priority.

Picture of an inmate making a connection. That connection, in the form of familial contact, will help preempt the development of a criminal identity.

Not only does this apply to telephonic modernization, but it should also include a less burdensome and arbitrary approach to visitation. A 2011 study conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice found that inmates’ family members cited unreasonably long waits and unclear rules as reasons they wouldn’t visit again.

The physical distance between family and inmates coupled with the stringent nature of visitation procedures makes contact by phone all the more important. Greater access and an emphasis on adapting to evolving telecommunications will be the challenge for correctional facilities going forward. But, as we’ve seen across multiple studies for decades, providing inmates the opportunity to maintain familial connections helps lower recidivism and aids successful rehabilitation.

Want to learn more about inmate rehabilitation and what we’re doing to curb criminal identities from developing? Check out our free library of rehabilitative content.  

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Correctional Insights Recidivism

What If Every Inmate had Access to Counseling?

If Every Inmate had a Counselor, How Would That Affect Their Lives?

Counseling is the possibly the gold-standard when it comes to rehabilitation and reducing recidivism for incarcerated populations. The question is, why aren’t more counselors connecting with inmates?

The issue of incarcerated individuals’ mental health is often overlooked. One study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that within a group of prison inmates surveyed, about 26 percent had been diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their life.

Of those people, very few received any treatment for mental health conditions. And according to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2005 more than half of all prison inmates had a mental health problem. So if the issue is so prevalent, what can be done about it?

Why Do Inmates Need Counseling?

Many genetic, environmental, and socio-economic factors can influence a prisoner’s mental health. Inmates often need help coping with the realities of prison life and the challenges that led them to that place.

A few of the stressors a prisoner might be facing are:

  • Existing mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or schizophrenia
  • Loneliness and self-isolation
  • Traumatic experiences
  • Difficulty adjusting to prison life
  • Guilt over previous crimes or actions
  • Drug abuse
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

These are heavy topics that need to be addressed under the professional care of a counselor. Sending them back into society without the tools they need to overcome their problems may be setting them up for failure.

How Counseling Can Benefit Inmates

In 2016, over 1,000 inmates died in local jails, with suicide as the leading cause of death. This disheartening number is preventable with the right therapeutic practices in place. If every inmate had a counselor, we’d see much more positive change and growth.

Counseling can benefit inmates by offering them healthy outlets to talk and process through what they’re experiencing in prison, the traumatic events of their childhood, past mistakes, and more. The right therapies can offer inmates a better outlook on life and enable them to make positive choices for themselves moving forward.

For those struggling with substance abuse, counseling could free them from the hold of addiction. Individual counseling is an essential aspect of addiction recovery because it allows the person to work through more sensitive issues in a private setting without the scrutiny of group sessions or judgment from their peers.

Many inmates also silently struggle with co-occurring disorders of substance abuse and mental illness. And despite the high rate of prisoners with co-occurring disorders, there are few programs designed to help them.

Inmates must see themselves as capable of change. Research has found that with counseling, inmates can develop and maintain an enhanced self-image and accept personal responsibility for their actions.

An individualized treatment plan can give inmates the guidance and encouragement they need to succeed in and out of prison. Specific therapeutic techniques (like motivational interviewing, faith-based initiatives, token economy models, and medicated treatment) have been proven to provide positive results.

These attention-improving models help inmates to be more aware of themselves and others, knowing how others experience and perceive their behavior.

The Bottom Line

Prisoners need counseling for the same reasons everyone else who seeks counseling does: Some issues are too difficult to face alone, and counseling can make the way for healthy coping strategies to make positive change.

If we gave every inmate a counselor, their lives could be impacted by the ability to take control over their own lives and find solutions to problems. We could prevent recidivism and give inmates the ability to overcome struggles with crime and mental health.

Author bio: Hannah Bennett is a content specialist for AddictionResource.net, an informational guide that provides resources for those struggling with addiction and their loved ones.

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Articles Recidivism

Former Inmates are Critical to Reforming Criminal Justice

“Within 3 years of release, 2 out of 3 people are rearrested and more than 50% are reincarcerated,” as noted by healthypeople.gov. This troubling statistic is evidence that our criminal justice system is broken, and while the causes for this are many, the input and participation of former inmates could be the key to unlocking better outcomes for inmates in the US.

Those inmates who legally escape the corrections system have something to offer: Perspective. They’ve seen the system from the inside-out, and they’re among the best to offer opinions to solve its problems. After a lengthy stint of incarceration, a former inmate has already lived through what’s right and wrong with the system, which should be invaluable material for policy-makers.

Former inmates can also do a wealth of good for the people who are still incarcerated in their former institution. Take for example, the story of Pastor Ron Smith. He was incarcerated for 6 and a half years before eventually turning his life around to become a preacher. Now, he returns to offer counseling and guidance to the young men who are in the same place where he used to be.

However, Ron can only visit so many correctional facilities. Former inmates may have valuable insights for the currently incarcerated, but they need a metaphorical megaphone for their message to truly have an effect. That’s where a technology like digital signage comes in. With digital signage, many facilities can easily disperse content to their inmates on a regular basis.

Imagine if this message from former inmate Tim Hurley was broadcast across jails nationwide: “The No. 1 ingredient required to make it is humility. When humble, I am teachable.” These are the kinds of messages that need to be amplified, and we can get more of them if we just listened to former inmates more often.

Encartele believes that inmates need to hear messages like this, so we regularly produce free rehabilitative materials for public use.

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Recidivism

The Importance of Consistent Communication

Anyone who has a family member or friend who is or has been incarcerated knows the struggle and the frustration associated with the behavior of the inmate.

Whether a short term stay or a lengthy sentence, those incarcerated are serving time for breaking the law. That behavior is a thorn in the side of every loved one—a thorn that can lead to a lack of empathy, a lack of patience and a lack of communication in their relationship with the inmate.

While those feelings aren’t uncommon and, in most cases, are justified, people who are incarcerated need consistent communication, empathy and patience, if their loved ones want to see them reenter society with lower recidivism rates than other inmates.

Communication Breakdown

In their research article on recidivism, Matthew A. Koschmann and Brittany L. Peterson argued that many reentry efforts focus primarily on traditional signs of reoffending, rather than on what is actually to blame for that recidivism. In other words, the focus is on continued criminal behavior, violations to parole and compliance with treatment requirements, but not on communication.

According to the pair, “the underlying cause is a communication breakdown of being cut off from networks and meaningful relationships that provide the necessary social capital needed for successful reintegration.”

A parent, spouse, sibling, other family member or good friend needs to continue offering consistent communication to the inmate throughout their sentence. Even better, a network of people who care for the incarcerated individual and want to see them succeed upon release need to work at consistent communication with the inmate to ensure their relationship with the individual stays strong. Deep ties to family and friends help an inmate to walk away from people and situations that don’t have their best interests in mind.

Prison staff should also strive for consistent communication with inmates. However, their style of communication must be different than the support offered by families. Staff have a responsibility to uphold an impartial, professional, and uncompromising relationship with the incarcerated population.

While staff want to see an inmate succeed in reentry and likely have some great advice to share with the inmate along the way, their relationship with any single inmate should be a sterile one.

This is important to remember, because, in some cases, staff relationships are all an inmate has for communication. Staff relationships do not offer the strong, deep ties to family and friends that will see them through difficult situations upon reentry.

Overall Importance of Relationships

According to an Evidence-Based Professionals Society article by Timothy Daty, “When examining recidivism, the study of family relationships is often a key component in predicting repeat criminal behavior among formerly incarcerated individuals. Research suggests that strong family ties produce lasting impacts among this population and often deter future incidents of crime (Bales and Mears, 2008).”

Consistent communication is an important factor in life, whether behind bars or not.

Kathy Miller, a caregiver coordinator who works with the elderly, wrote, “Our ability to communicate thoughts and feelings to those around us helps us to maintain our sense of identity, and is an integral part of maintaining our quality of life.”

She may have been referring to people suffering from Alzheimer’s, but the sentiment remains true to all facets of life. Communication is a key factor in our psychological well-being—something that can warp and disappear very quickly behind bars.

Keeping consistent communication with an incarcerated individual is easier said than done in many cases, as the pressures of prison can be extremely overwhelming, especially in the beginning.

The Roadblocks

There is pressure for inmates to find a group, to assert themselves or blend in, to maintain their independence or embrace the regulatory nature of prison. That pressure is a weight all inmates must carry, and it’s significant.

Inmates face strict regulations on items they can own, the amount of time spent out of their cell, and what they are allowed to eat, which can cause frustration. They also are surrounded by other inmates, some of whom have no desire to grow beyond their poor decisions and cultivate healthy relationships and success in life.

Break the rules, and the few privileges an inmate has will vanish. That includes phone time and in some cases receiving mail, depending on the severity of the infraction. Keeping those communication lines open is vital.

Being part of the support system for an inmate who regularly lands in trouble may put a damper on your relationship, but family members and friends should maintain consistent communication in spite of that, for the benefit of everyone.

According to a Prison Legal News article by Alex Friedmann, “studies have consistently found that prisoners who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates.”

While a family member or friend can’t be forced to have consistent communication with an inmate, the opportunity is always there. More and more jails today have various forms of telecommunication for inmates, whether it be video visitation, phones or secure email.

The fact is, making the choice to keep up with your incarcerated loved ones directly affects their likelihood of getting out of jail—and staying out.