Rehabilitation – The Dirty Word

Kate Boccia – The National Incarceration Association

As I ponder on the past 3 years and 5 months of my son’s incarceration, I think about the word “rehabilitation” and how absurd it really is in relation to what I’ve seen. (And those of you who go behind the razor wire know exactly what I mean). Many think my son has had some form of educational opportunities.

To the contrary. He has had nothing but a mundane work detail. In fact, he just started an HVAC class two weeks ago and loves it. Sad part is, at 25, he should have his college degree by now.

As we move toward restorative justice and criminal justice reform, we need to consider the effects of mass incarceration. Without mass re-integration (rather than re-entry), we can’t stop the staggering recidivism rate. Many of our returning citizens are ill-equipped to come home because true rehabilitation doesn’t exist in prisons. The opportunities available are so fragmented that, unless the inmate (or their loved one) has an uncanny ability to navigate the system, he or she will likely never find the programs.

With the fast pace of technology changes, and the complete reliance on this as a way to do business, we can understand the importance of teaching it inside our prisons, but this is not done. We have adults returning home who have been locked up for decades. They have no concept of the Internet, much less a smart phone. I often say that the prison system is 1974, not 2016, as it relates to how inmates are taught.

As a society we can do some quick numbers crunching – more than 630,000 people are coming home. That’s more than 10,000 per week. More than likely, they return to the community where they were arrested with barriers so difficult to overcome it makes it nearly impossible to survive.

Now we can talk all we want, but without starting to take serious action it will do no good. The political climate is ripe now. The voter blocs are being discussed in all arenas. Politicians talk about embracing African-Americans, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, millennials, female voters, gun rights, right to lifers and more. But one voter bloc is missing: It is the invisible voter. It’s the families, loved ones and advocates for the incarcerated or, as we lovingly refer to as “the caught up.”

How Many People Are locked up in the united states - prisonpolicy.org How Many People Are locked up in the united states – prisonpolicy.org

In essence, we can reasonably assume that each and every one of us have or know of someone who is under some form of supervision, whether it is prison, probation (3.9 million), parole, (850,000) or jails (more than 11 million people cycle through each year, according to the Prison Policy Initiative report. And for those of you who don’t know someone, your wallet sure does.

These staggering numbers are real. Without true “rehabilitation,” from the moment of sentencing and each and every day they are incarcerated, we will never reduce these numbers. All of us are included in some form or fashion. All of us have the same desires – safe, healthy communities. So let’s vote accordingly.