Prisons do not have to be recidivism factories. It is time for a sea change in the prison model. The current model, which has not changed for centuries, is to take people who have experienced bad influences and cram them together with even worse influences, ultimately making them more dangerous to society than when they were convicted.
Prison should have the opposite effect.
Solution: Voluntary solitary confinement with monitored internet access.
Think it through. Unlimited access to family, friends, online classes, news, and entertainment, compared with perpetual boredom, fear and hate. No prisoner-prisoner interaction other than voluntary outdoor exercise. No other staff-prisoner interaction other than feeding (if not automated), extrication (when necessary), and voluntary programs.
Security: Naturally, the immediate concern is preventing internet access from being used to participate in or encourage illegal activity. Prisoners would understand they have no right to privacy, that all use would be recorded and subject to live monitoring or later review at any time, that they will be re-arrested if they engage in any illegal activity, and that disciplinary action will be taken if they participate in or encourage any gang-related activity, whether illegal or not.
Monitoring would initially be done without the monitor having knowledge of the prisoner's identity, and could be assigned to any qualified person online, even volunteer organizations, not limited to prison staff. Anyone on the planet who has been prequalified could act as an online monitor. Problem prisoners would only have access when a qualified monitor is available.
Model prisoners would have increased (recorded/monitored) personal visitation privileges.
The monitor could be an advocate who has a personal relationship with the prisoner, or an anonymous monitor who does not know the prisoner's identity to provide a sense of privacy. The prisoner would choose which type on the basis of the type of interaction in progress.
We could not afford full-time one-on-one paid monitors. More likely there will be a lot of volunteers, and priority would be given to the lowest-risk prisoners. One possibility would be for non-violent offenders with no history of collusion in illegal activities to work as anonymous monitors for other unidentified prisoners in other unidentified institutions.
The threat of loss of internet access should be a strong motivation to forgo illegal activity.
Imagine the difference when, instead of spending every waking moment in fear of his or her environment, brooding about how to take vengeance against another prisoner, staff member, their original victim, or society at large, a prisoner could spend time in a safe environment improving his or her life. Imagine the difference for a prisoner with the opportunity to take an online class and use that knowledge to help his or her children with their homework, face-to-face over the internet.
For-profit prisons will never evolve in any way that reduces profits unless they are forced to do so by the government. It is time to rethink the entire self-perpetuating and self-exacerbating prison industry.
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