Prisons aren’t what they used to be. And they shouldn’t be. But are we where we need to be yet? Absolutely not. The key ingredient still missing in prisons are accountability and transparency. What kind of compassion could be infused into rehabilitation simply if those two items could be forthcoming?

Firstly, things like Philip Zimbardo’s “Lucifer Effect” could be put in check. The abuses suffered in prisons throughout the US by the acts of staff are directly the result of a twisted psychology by the amoral. Mind you, the vast majority of prison staff and officials are good natured and well intended individually, but something about grinding humans through an ineffectual bureaucracy brings out the worst in the enforcers of other people. If there were more societal observations of such a machine, radical transparency, perhaps the machine operators would become less inclined to steer away from their own moral compasses and connect to a more humane nature. Perhaps they could even see the people in prisons and not the evil animals.

The same principles hold true for an incarcerated population. If the public could see what their billions are actually paying for, perhaps more would be demanded of those incarcerated as well. For instance, the day rooms of a prison stay packed full of gamblers who have done nothing to rehabilitate, even when the chance was given. Is this what you want to spend $50k on one person for per year? What if this wasn’t the expectation and the prison and public together held them accountable for their own destinies? What if taxpayers got their money’s worth by insisting progress and productivity come back to the neighborhoods these broken people left from?

At the end of the day, the problem is beyond complex. But it isn’t impossible. Compassion is what’s required to heal this broken system, these broken people under its control and the men and women who dedicate their careers to it. And if it could be done with a bit of compassion, we might even get a better society from it.

by Rory Andes

Remembering that humans exist in prisons is critical to compassion…

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