Prisoner, Save Thy Self?

Categories: Cover Story

There are nearly 7 million people now under the supervision of the correctional system in the United States -- and that includes prison, parole or probation. That’s one out of every 32 adult Americans, a rate of incarceration that is unprecedented in U.S. history. What, then, to do with our ever-growing prison population? This is one of the questions last week’s cover story in the paper version of Unfair Park seeks to address.

“Men come to prison as a punishment,” Alexander Paterson, the famous 20th century English prison commissioner, once said. "It is…the sentence of imprisonment, and not the treatment accorded in prison, that constitutes the punishment.” As Marie Gottschalk noted in the Texas Law Review last summer: “This means recognizing our ‘solidarity with the expelled of society’ and making life behind bars as humane as possible, even if we cannot prove it reduces the recidivism rate. As the Swedish Minister of Justice Herman Kling once said: ‘We must practice humanity without expecting anything in return.’”

The prison we wrote about last week has taken a radical approach to prison reform: It has turned over its programming to an Evangelical organization called Prison Fellowship Ministries. Ten years in, the experiment is considered by some to be a success; by others, to be an unconstitutional failure.

One reader, who says he has been working in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system for 20 years as a mental health professional, says the article fails to make mention of the work of Stanton E. Samenow, one of the leading experts on Antisocial Personality Disorder.

“This esteemed psychologist,” the reader writes, “was involved in a longitudinal study which focused on traditional psychotherapeutic intervention [of] the population in question. Bottom line: None of these traditional approaches worked. Hence, the proposed treatment of choice was focusing on ‘criminal thinking errors.’ One of these thinking errors was that of religion. You can compare this to the Mafia going to communion after making a hit.”

The InnerChange program, as we noted, has been bothed criticized and praised, in these pages and elsewhere. But most who participate in it say it works.

"If we're successful, then people don't commit crimes, so we've got less victims and ultimately that's good for everyone,” says Tommie Dorsett, the program’s director. "What people don't understand is, we have 155,000 people incarcerated in Texas, and of that number only 485 are on death row. Everyone else is eventually going to get out. So what do we want to accomplish while a person is incarcerated who is eventually going to be a citizen coming back to our communities? We can do absolutely nothing, or we can do some things to help." --Jesse Hyde

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