The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the World. We throw more people in prison than any other country, in hopes of rehabilitation. The U.S. prison system has been under scrutiny for years, and for good reason. According to prb.org, other countries tend to imprison roughly 100 people per 100,000 residents. The U.S., on the other hand, has been hovering around 500 incarcerations per 100,000 residents.
And while no criminal should go unpunished, maybe the U.S. needs to consider a different route for mentally ill prisoners. Rehabilitation centers should be the dominant choice in dealing with chronic drug users and mentally ill, instead of throwing them away in prison. Case in point, the Pontiac prison has struggled with the treatment of its mentally ill convict population due to the spike in overall population of this subgroup.
The Pantagraph recently published a headlining story detailing Pontiac prison’s concerns in regards to the mental health of its prisoners. The article took statements from faculty, including Pontiac Correctional Center’s Warden, Randy Pfister. Mr. Pfister expressed his concerns about treating prisoners with mental health problems, and said the population of this specific subgroup has skyrocketed due to “a failed system” outside of prison walls. The figures he gives the Pantagraph are astounding.
“The number of inmates classified as seriously mentally ill has increased 300 percent. Four months ago, that number was 67 and it’s risen to 358,” he stated. State Senator Melinda Bush, who was also featured in the Pantagraph article, blamed this increase on the lack of state funding for local mental health programs.
This Editorial Board believes that State Senator Bush’s accusations are valid. Certain subgroups of criminals, such as recreational drug users and the mentally disabled should undergo extensive rehabilitation therapy instead of being tossed away in jail. Recidivism rates (prisoners returning to jail after being released) have provided us with enough empirical evidence that prison rehabilitation is unsuccessful, so it is time to change the system. Rehabilitation therapy can not only free up crucial space in our prison system, it could potentially decrease recidivism rates all around the country.
The U.S. should reserve space in prisons for those who truly deserve to be there. Locking up recreational drug users and the mentally disabled is not a successful rehabilitation technique, and more preventive measures should be taken to decrease recidivism rates. Otherwise, the broken prison system will continue to exist. Locking away all the convicted will temporarily get them off the streets, but there needs to be a permanent solution.
Rehabilitation therapy will serve this purpose by helping convicted persons become outstanding contributors to the community, instead of promoting eminent relapse that the prison system has tended to do so over the years. Some people deserve to be isolated from society, but others simply need a helping hand.