As a general rule, when seeking to solve a problem, it helps to get the opinions of those most directly affected by the policy in question. Those who are most familiar with the situation are usually able to bring unique insights and ideas to the table, and are often better equipped to make these suggestions a reality.
There are a number of policy makers and organizations that usually take the lead when it comes to criminal justice reform. But a new group offering solutions to the challenges of life inside prisons brings a new prospective to the table: it is comprised completely of prisoners.
The “Responsible Prison Project” is comprised of five residents of the Darrington Unit corrections facility in eastern Texas, each of whom is a graduate of an in-prison seminary program. Last month, the men composed a 65-page report entitled, “Reshaping the Texas Prison System for Greater Public Safety.” The proposed solutions, the authors say, are to help the Texas Department of Criminal Justice fulfill its stated mission to “provide public safety, promote positive change in offender behavior, reintegrate offenders into society, and assist victims of crime.”
“It has often been said that those who are closest to a problem are closest to its solution,” the document begins. “That is no less true of prisoners.”
The document highlights a number of specific issues in the prison, from prisoner intake, to conditions and practices in the facility, to reentry programming. Each section paints a picture of current state of affairs, followed by a proposal for change.
The Marshall Project highlights a number of the proposals. Among the suggestions:
- Improving the treatment of incoming prisoners at arrival. (“New arrivals should have counseling available and should receive immediate training to prepare them for the prison culture and to inoculate them against gang recruiters, extortion, and other threats.”)
- Offering better, more nutritious food options. (“inmates overwhelmingly agree that if fruits and vegetables were sold in commissary, they would buy them regularly. Inmates would eat healthier if given the option.”)
- Extending visitation from two-hour to four-hour sessions. (“This would encourage visitors to drive the long distance—200 miles one way in many instances—to maintain a bond with their incarcerated loved one.”)
- Being able to earn the right to a more relaxed dress code. (“Giving inmates the ability to set themselves apart from those who choose to continue to misbehave would give an inmate a reason to care about his future.”)
As the Marshall Project story notes, a number of the proposed policies are unlikely to gain much traction (e.g., hiring an outside arbiter to oversee prisoner grievances), but many of the ideas are practical, and would be fairly easy to enact.
“Society cannot afford the cost on humanity of releasing non-rehabilitated criminals from prison,” the report concludes. “If, as Dostoevsky has said, ‘the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,’ Texas must change the way it operates its prisons.”
Prison Fellowship believes that there is inherent and inalienable value in every man and woman behind bars, and that they have the capacity to change and become valuable citizens—both in the prison and after release. By supporting legislation such as the Corrections and Recidivism Risk Reduction Act, Prison Fellowship seeks to transform prison systems so that they are best preparing prisoners to be better neighbors when they return to their communities.
To learn more about Prison Fellowship’s efforts to create more constructive prison cultures, and how you can be a part of that change, visit https://www.prisonfellowship.org/advocacy.