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Posts Tagged ‘redemption’

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In between grading today, I’ve been reading a Helen Epstein piece from the new New York Review of Books (ostensibly a review of Sunny Schwartz’s must-read book) concerning America’s prison complex.

The program detailed in the article, a violence-prevention program called RSVP (Resolve to Stop the Violence Project) implemented by Schwartz at the San Bruno prison that hearkens from the restorative justice movement. The movement has an eye towards the kind of rehabilitation common in many new prison programs, with an added component of restitution to society in general. In a program based on anger management clinics, convicts must discuss their path towards violence and recognize the damage that they cause. If this all sounds lovey-dovey, I would point out its startling effect on recidivism, lowering rates sharply at the San Bruno prison where the program was implemented (link here: warning PDF).

After reading the piece, I recalled a conversation I had recently about Thomas Sowell and his view of systems and processes. I’m not a fan of most of his work, as I am not a fan of many economists who take a “government = bad” view of the world. Nevertheless, I agree with him in that properly designed and implemented systems can control for human error and are more likely to produce proper outcomes than good intentions. The prison system in America demonstrates that the inverse happens to be true as well.

The whole system is problematic because it relies of exclusion as punishment. Our society of punitive justice has done almost nothing to remove criminality from the prison population. I see this every day in my school; students, particularly those who are already on the “bad track,” do not fear failure or negative consequences. In fact, they often welcome them. Their reaction to detention/suspension/expulsion is often relief, as if they have completed a predesignated assignment. We have arranged the risks and rewards in such a way that the people punished once have little to no reason to expect anything else for as long as they live. Once excluded, the individual has no choice but to continue on the excluded path — “an institution man,” as Red puts it in The Shawshank Redemption.

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