It would seem the worst of the worst go to prison, but such is not the case. Statistically, the United States locks up not only poor people, but a great many drug offenders. In 2005 there were two million inmates in the United States; of these two million, 25 percent were convicted on drug related charges. Drugwarfacts.org states that from 1990 to 2010 in federal prisons, drug convictions accounted for very close to half of all convictions. They state also that the amount of federal prisoners grew from 57,000 to 190,000 during this same time period.
This prison state is a huge private club, and one whose members rarely leave. They are firstly branded as convicts, criminals, or excons. Their rights are stripped away, their freedom is gone, and not just the freedom to walk away from prison, but the freedom to live any kind of traditional, normal life. It is a clear and convincing intent by the federal government to remove certain of society’s undesirables on a permanent basis.
The jailbird stigma is the worst problem, and that is what needs to be dealt with first. It has to be legally okay to start over, to be a citizen, and to vote. Hope must be returned to those leaving prison; and their burden to society at an end, not just a new form of punishment. And that is what not being allowed to vote is, an unending prison.
Once the illegality of lifelong branding is at end, it is time to change the philosophy further and prison must be looked at as more life focused. Life focused means job focused. It is much harder for a person to get in trouble when they are busy working. It stands to reason that a high majority of first-time prisoners are lacking certain educational and life skills. If these first-timers are in their late teens or early twenties they are soaking up learning like sponges. For society’s sake it might be better to take more control of prison learning, or else what is learned but new crimes, new criminal techniques, new scams, and whatever other knowledge is stored in prisons.
More life-focused things might be learning how to fill out job applications, how to talk to people, human interactions, or how to keep a bank account. Perhaps civic matters could be introduced to the prisoners; since their lives are ruled by it, maybe they should know what it is that really controls their lives. A life spent in a prison is a terrible loss; but a life spent in prison because there is nowhere else to go is a horror. When a whole segment of the society is a write-off, great waste has occurred.