The first thing that society should do to treat criminals is to place a permanent and merciless prohibition on the private prison industry’s ability to influence any laws that affect their profitability. That includes sentencing laws, oversight by government, regulations and local oversight of their activities in dealing with prisoners, who if they are located in a community, are also members of that community.
The second thing that society should do is to take the racist, politically corrupted and class based elements out of the law and out of law enforcement. It should be a job ender to focus the most aggressive enforcement and even killing on the poor and on people of color while letting Whites and the wealthy move on without the same aggressive enforcement. Lindsay Lohan should do the same jail time and suffer the same consequences as any other recidivist addict and lawbreaker. A right wing political connection should do the same jail time as Martha Stewart for lying to authorities about a minor matter.
The third thing that society should do is to consider poor children and children of color the same as society considers White children and wealthy children. Our juvenile system is a shame and a disgrace, with children being killed and abused with no desire or intent to shape them into more functional people. In one case, a judge was arrested for taking kickbacks for sentencing juveniles to a private facility.
How many other elected judges and community “leaders” take campaign money from the private juvenile and prison industry and sacrifice poor children and children of color for the monetary gain of their supporters? This has to stop.
The fourth thing that society should do is to evaluate the mental health of those who have been found guilty of crimes and get the ill ones into treatment facilities, not regular prisons. This may hurt the profits of the private prison industry to lose prisoners who cannot control, think or act for themselves, but such individuals should never be in the general population.
The fifth thing is to consider every warden and guard legally and criminally responsible for every rape, killing, destructive fight and other out of control situation in prisons. They are paid well enough to do their jobs, they are given way more power and authority than their performance indicates. The prisoners did not get sentenced to be raped, stabbed, tortured or murdered, but the attitude of prison management is an infuriating one of feigned helplessness and inability to stop the madness.
While no one program or policy is going to work for all prisoners, there are many who simply deserve to do their time, to do it in safe and healthy environments and to be protected from corruption, rape, assault, torture, abuse and murder.
There needs to be no general population if the management is incompetent to make it a safe and well controlled environment. There needs to be special and separated populations where the most dangerous or out of control are kept away from those who can do better. Then, the best programs and policies can be applied to see if there is improvement in the more stable, capable and willing prisoners.
There also needs to be a lot more control over those who continue to run their criminal enterprises, including recruitment, extortion, drug dealing, prostitution, murder for hire and controlling whole neighborhoods while in prison. If prisoners do not have a right to be protected from rape and murder, then they should not have the rights to communicate well enough to run organized criminal organizations inside and outside of prisons. They are clearly doing this with some help from the staff and management of prisons, and that needs to be stopped.
Finally, while drug legalization is not the answer, methadone and other maintenance programs probably are the answer. The problem is that, frankly, there is no way to funnel tax dollars into private firms for their profit. When private profit no longer drives the drug abuse punishment industries, then more addicts who have been begging for maintenance and rehabilitation support will get a chance of finding out if it can stabilize them enough to become functioning members of society.