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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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Correctional Insights

The Importance of Rehabilitative Content for Inmates

The sheer number of people who pass through the correctional system on a daily basis is staggering. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 77 million people in America have criminal records. Putting aside the fact that criminal justice in America is in need of massive reforms, our correctional institutions are missing out on a huge opportunity. Going to jail is a punishment, but it could also be an opportunity for every individual who passes through the facility. That’s why rehabilitative content for inmates is so important.

When an inmate enters a jail, they can still choose how they want to spend their time. They have fewer options, but choice is still a part of their daily existence. Frequently the choice is between escapism and self-improvement. For example, during rec time, a hypothetical inmate could either watch TV or do pushups. However, the options for rehabilitative content for inmates can be quite limited.

Many inmates (possibly even the majority) actually want to better their personal situations. They want access to group therapy, law libraries, and educational resources. Inside some institutions, rehabilitative content for inmates is in high demand, not only from inmates, but from staff members too. Content has the power to soothe, instruct and improve lives – of course correctional officers and jail administrators want inmates to have access to it. Content makes the facility safer.

The fact is, we are probably years if not decades away from reforming the mass incarceration epidemic America is currently facing. In the meantime, millions of people pass through institutions that could be offering rehabilitative content for inmates they house. Everyone benefits when this kind of content is dispersed, even the inmates who don’t need to be rehabilitated.

Where would you rather be: in a jail with other inmates who engage with positive content, or in a jail with inmates who have nothing to lose? Most people would probably prefer an environment of rehabilitation rather than senseless incarceration. By promoting rehabilitative content for inmates, we can make an immediate difference in the quality of life for millions of people.

Encartele believes rehabilitative content is critical, so we regularly produce free materials for public use. Click here to download them for free.

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Recidivism

Inmate Rehabilitation: Who Are We Without Choice?

Across the board, incarceration facilities do two things well: they prevent violent offenders from wreaking havoc upon the state, and they satisfy the shelter, sustenance, and medical needs of varying prisoner populations. Unfortunately, jails and prisons make it hard for inmates to practice making the right decisions, due to the lack of available choices. Compared with life on the outside, prisoners have only a handful of ways they can express their agency. In part, this is by design. Correctional facilities are concerned primarily with security, and in light of that, some inmate choices must be restricted. Even so, without the option, inmates can only help themselves so much.

However, what if there was a way to return a sense of choice to people on the inside? Better yet, what if there was a way inmates could practice making positive life decisions before their sentences end? Returning a sense of choice to inmates could have profound impacts on recidivism. But how do we know what options to offer, or how to frame them? Before we can use choice to improve post-incarceration outcomes, we have to understand more about it.

Without Choice, we are Prisoner to our Emotions

Think about this phrase: “I had no choice.” How many times throughout history has that statement been used to justify something terrible? When people feel like they have no options, they are forced to act. Little time is spent pondering the consequences, or how our actions may impact the people around us. Because of that, we make rash decisions. When we lose customers, friends, or lovers, it’s not because we took a calm, rational approach to the situation. In most instances, we make mistakes when our emotions get the best of us. Without choice, we are living life without self-control.

Self-control is just a series of choices. Sure, they are often hard choices to make. There’s nothing easier than losing your temper. And sure, these self-control choices must be consciously made on a recurring, moment-to-moment basis, but that only makes practice all the more relevant. The more often a person makes positive decisions, the more relaxed those choices become. In fact, self-control is so vital that Professor Richard Nisbettthe world’s greatest authority on intelligence—plainly stated that he’d rather his son be high in self-control than highly intelligent.

This is where jails and prisons can make the most significant impact. Maybe not in the quality of decisions that are made, but in the consistency. An incarceration facility is a micro-society. The choice is limited, but because the same incarcerated person can make the same decisions over and over again over the duration of their sentence, incarceration is a powerful vehicle for reinforcing choice habits. Right now, the evidence shows that U.S. correctional facilities are reinforcing the wrong habits. All of this is to say that without choice, and especially good options, we are the prisoner of our emotions.

With Choice, we can Rehabilitate Ourselves

Imagine this: alongside its usual junk-food staples like soda and candy, a commissary provider includes healthier options like fruit or whole-grain granola bars. Now, inmates have the choice between snacks that are healthy or unhealthy; provided costs are controlled for. On the one hand, they have the instant gratification and sugar-rush that a candy bar offers. On the other, they improve their long-term health. Just by adding more options, the commissary has provided inmates with the opportunity to make a value judgment. This example could be made even more efficient by encouraging inmates to create positive, long-term choices; either by way of price incentives or digital signage campaigns.

Of course, not every behavioral problem can be solved by adding tangerines to the commissary. Many of the people who end up in prison have corrupted perceptions of right and wrong that were ingrained in them over a lifetime. But if jail administrators think about choice as a tool, instead of as an afterthought, prisons and jails could improve recidivism rates by incentivizing positive behavioral change.

The smartest people in our society create their positive options. They don’t wait for someone to give them a handout or tell them it’s okay to solve a problem. They just do it. Nobody listed “Become the first black president of South Africa” as an option on Nelson Mandela’s commissary request form. He made that happen himself. Unfortunately, the majority of the prisoners in the U.S. Justice system aren’t naturally gifted human beings. They’re regular people living regular lives who somewhere down the line, made the wrong choice. Incarceration facilities shouldn’t just punish people for making bad decisions; they should prepare them to make better ones in the future.