Gov. Baker [of Massachusetts] has proposed $640 million for the Department of Corrections [DOC] for 2019 PLUS a line item for $11 million for the training and hiring of 200 new correctional officers [COs]. The DOC now spends less than 2 percent on programs for incarcerated people.
Does this reflect our priorities or prepare people to return home? Some 92 percent of all incarcerated people will return home.
Another possibility is to transition toward the goal that all COs serve as program officers, who share a skill and/or knowledge with the people in their care. The program can be practically anything–culinary, GED preparation/tutoring, plumbing, carpentry, writing, running a small business, yoga/mindfulness, college or high school classes, computer repair/programming, job skills, trauma awareness/healing, or sales and communication skills, to name a few possibilities.
“The union would never go for it,” according to naysayers. What about tuning into the WIFM channel — What’s in it for me?
When every CO is a program officer, they:
- Would work in a safer environment because their relationships with incarcerated people would be transformed from adversarial and punishment to one of friendly guidance;
- Would have more interesting satisfying jobs, that go deeper than providing security and warehousing, with opportunities to help people;
- Might have less suicide and/or substance abuse disorder, better relationships at work and at home, and improved mental and physical health in the short and long term.
Wouldn’t that be motivation for the union to work toward constructive change within the system?
With a healthier environment, other problems might dissipate, such as contraband and drug distribution and use inside; gang membership; violence; mental illness; idleness and lack of motivation and rehabilitation.
New ideas are typically first ridiculed. More humane prisons in Europe have demonstrated that more progressive prisons and jails result in dramatically lower rates of recidivism.
We have nothing to lose from implementing something NEW in our broken correctional system, which depends on repeat customers filling our prisons and jails. It would give the opportunity for the DOC to fulfill its motto of “Manage, Care, Program, Prepare.”