I am president of PrisonEd Foundation — a Utah nonprofit corporation committed to providing educational opportunities to Utah prison inmates without cost to the state.
Regarding the prison move, I believe a fundamental issue must be considered. The question is, do we send people to prison for punishment or as punishment? How we answer that question has far-reaching consequences.
If we send people to prison for punishment, traditional incarceration practices are sufficient. And somewhere around half of prison inmates return to prison after having been released — incurring great cost to taxpayers.
However, if we send people to prison as punishment, then we acknowledge that being removed from family, employment and society is indeed punishment. In this case, doors are opened wide to correction and rehabilitation as the primary objective of prison. Rather than looking at prison as a landfill to dump refuse, I believe prison is more accurately viewed as a recycling plant for men and women who are redeemable.
Approximately 95 percent of prison inmates will be released from prison and join us as neighbors. A lofty goal is to help them be exemplary neighbors. Achieving this goal takes more than allowing inmates to become institutionalized over the years. It means prioritizing rehabilitation, primarily through education.
Volunteer organizations offer monumental resources to help in the rehabilitation process. Such efforts have been shown to significantly reduce recidivism (inmates returning to prison after being released), and therefore costs. The prison location needs to be friendly to this effort of volunteers. Further, the prison facility needs to be friendly to these efforts through classrooms and video arrangements enabling qualified volunteer instructors to provide instruction from remote locations. In addition, attention should be given to a closed system of piping in some of the vast education opportunities on the Internet.
I submit the above should be a primary consideration in making prison decisions.
I close with the words I recently received from a Utah prison inmate.
"I have a long time to do in prison, yet, and I am determined to keep from becoming institutionalized, or criminally minded. I want to leave here a better person than the man I was when I entered. The only way I can do that is through educational and vocational classes. [Programs like this] give me hope. Many of us share a worst fear that we will not be able to make a good transition back into society, and therefore returning to prison, but you are giving us hope. Without help from the outside we are all but helpless."
Donald L. Wright is president of PrisonEd Foundation — a Utah nonprofit corporation committed to providing educational opportunities to Utah prison inmates without cost to the state.