How do we reform prisons?

December 7, 2016

I thought I would begin my blog with the question; How do we reform prisons? I thought it might be a good place to start… 


As I consider prison reform, my thoughts are occupied with ideas that might improve prisons, in light of the countless issues associated with the incarceration of a human life.  Ideas that might centre on providing better living conditions, smoother processes, meaningful training, greater resources and more opportunities.  Yet instead I feel I can only address this question by answering a second question; How do we (as a society) reform people?  I think this question may be of greater use.  For me, prison reform is about creating conditions whereby an individual can grow and change, to reduce the likelihood of future victims.  The punishment is the sentence, no more.  And so, if this were the case, as an individual steps into prison, our job is about making sure that after they have served their sentence, they do not return.  This is our responsibility as a society. 


With this in mind, there is (in my humble opinion) the need to provide a trusting climate, which nurtures personal growth in our prisons; a place where people can be seen and heard; a place where prisoners and staff are given responsibility, autonomy and the opportunity to do meaningful work; a place where people can be themselves and valued.  This I believe provides prisoners with the chance to learn the values our society encourages.   I believe these variables are the building blocks to reform.  Prison might then become a place that reforms lives rather than de-habilitates them. 


But these reforms are not just for those that are reside behind a prison wall, serving their sentence.  Reform which focuses upon connection, meaning and positive relationships might benefit all those that enter in; The prison officer who fears for their safety may experience less uncertainty each morning they arrive at work and nervously hook their keys onto their chain; The child who visits her mother or father in prison may feel more ease because they too are seen and invested in.  For me, it is not the prison that needs reforming, it is the climate that exists within it.  We achieve through meaningful relationships. 


Politicians and governor’s need greater courage to fight for humanistic, alternative ways to punish, where the removal of liberty is the punishment alone.  Because prison is not a place where a spoonful of punishment is administered.  The loss of freedom is painful enough and largely underestimated in my view.  Creating terrible conditions in prison does not deter, our statistics tells us this…people come back. 


While this task is huge, I do not believe it ends there. I believe reforming prison needs to extend into our communities through a cultural shift away from shaming and hate, and towards an educated community that understands that locking people up for long periods of time, in inhumane conditions contributes to further offending.  Shaming increases the risk of further harm, it does not do the job…quite the opposite.   We all have a part to play and in some ways, we all need reforming. 



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