A Modest Proposal.
John Wareham is a renaissance man. An author, a psychologist, a thinker, a doer, an innovator. I’ve known him as a mentor and friend since 1988. He gave a speech recently in New Zealand on how we should rethink prisons and prison reform.
- Make our prisons government owned enterprises and discard the warehousing model. Storing and punishing human animals is at best a short term route to immediate profit. In the long term, it merely produces more criminals.
- Treat prisons as income streams not cost centres. Recognise that the full cost to society of incarceration includes a massive but invisible item; lost tax revenue.
- Change the mission to the creation of productive, tax-paying citizens. Most inmates will be released back into society, so this is the outcome we’d all like—right?
- Impart intensive life-changing ideas. Implant the big, liberating concepts that underlie the mostly invisible social and individual forces that create the special predicament and serial incarceration of the prison inmate.
- Imbue returning inmates with skills they can market. The demand for unskilled labour is effectively exhausted. Ideally, in the 2016 economy re-entrants need to be capable of creating an income stream, not just hoping to find a job. To do this, they need to re-enter with a marketable skill and entrepreneurial know-how.
- Treat offenders and ex-offenders as assets not liabilities. The untapped talent of prison inmates is astonishing. They are an effectively free source of teaching personnel. The best prison teachers are hard-nosed ex-offenders who have been liberated intellectually and emotionally. So embrace the Taking Wings mantra, it takes an ex-offender to render an offender an ex.
- Increase the return on investment by changing the prison reward system. Benchmark success in terms of taxes paid by returning ex-offenders, and award bonuses to all prison personnel, including inmate teaching staff, in terms of their success in creating tax-paying citizens.
All of the above can be achieved at minimal cost. We already own the prisons, and they are crammed to the bars with raw talent and potential teachers. It would just take a new way of seeing things.