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Los Angeles Times, Feb. 10, 2021.

By Teah Swartzon

According to the Charles Koch Institute, there are over 1.5 million individuals housed in American prisons, with over 600,000 people released from prison each year. However, the rate of reoffense is alarmingly high.

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with extremely overcrowded prisons and a need to lower the rates of rearrest. A long-term recidivism report by Prison Legal News found the rates of stater prisoners were 83% over nine years, while only 39.8% for nonviolent and roughly 64% for violent prisoners over eight years. 

These numbers suggest a need for programs inside of prison to lower this reoffense rate and give inmates the tools necessary for life outside.

Jeremiah Mosteller, a Criminal Justice Reform Policy Liaison, reports the principal arguments for prison reform are both to minimize the number of people who are rearrested and to provide essential skills for a prosperous life once released. These include job training, implementation of positive principles, support for mental health and substance abuse and religious studies.

Research has proven time spent in prison is not sufficient rehabilitation for the majority of prisoners. A large portion of inmates who serve time without any treatment return to committing criminal offenses instantly.

On the other hand, prisoners who receive and stick with a form of treatment, such as seeing a psychologist, or utilize the classroom settings many prisons have begun to offer, have proven to positively help inmates, often deterring them from reoffense. 

Unfortunately, rehabilitation for prisoners is costly, and it is often questioned whether the results outweigh the price. In 2012, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation received a budget increase of approximately $64 million over five years in order to reduce recidivism.

However, despite this inflation in the CDCR’s budget, consequential mistakes were made, leading to very little success in assisting the prisoners. Some of the majors issued included inconsistency in prisoner participation and low levels of enrollment, causing the program to be ineffective, though it had the potential to be successful.

Though the CDCR’s efforts at rehabilitation fell short, several international endeavors to reduce recidivism have proved successful.

Sweden’s prison system is famous for its progressive views toward the rehabilitation of inmates.

Most prisons do not allow their guards to carry guns or any lethal weapons in order to promote trust and provide opportunities for inmates to become efficient at different jobs in order to abet their reentry into society. Coupled with the positive treatment of prisoners and mental health resources, Sweden has created a system built on reform rather than punishment.

Österåker Prison, located in Stockholm, Sweden, trains their guards to create personal relationships with inmates, according to ABA Journal. The emphasis on deterrence and rehabilitation has limited the rate of reoffense to 29%. 

If America were to reimagine their prison system, perhaps drawing inspiration from the deterrence-focused system in Sweden, the rate of reoffense may begin to decrease, assisting the overcrowding issue as well.

Proper psychological care, favoring high-risk offenders for the rehabilitation programs and evidence-based initiatives would have possibly allowed the CDCR’s rehabilitation program to succeed and may allow other rehabilitation programs to successfully be implemented into all prisons in the United States.

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