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July 30, 2011

"''The Mess We’re In': Five Steps Towards the Transformation of Prison Cultures"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Professor Lynn Branham, which is available now via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Few dispute that conditions in prisons need to be improved -- that, for example, prisoners with mental-health problems need to have those problems addressed, and addressed effectively, while they are confined.  But the more fundamental question is whether prisons can be, not just improved, but transformed.  Transformation in this context means deep and sustained changes in the ethos of those who work and live in prisons. That ethos would reflect at least four precepts: (1) hope as an imperative; (2) the viability of renewal; (3) the catharsis that attends personal responsibility and accountability; and (4) the duty and call, extending to prisoners and correctional employees alike, to respect human dignity.

This article rests on the proposition that such “culture busting” in prisons is possible and describes five key steps that need to be taken by each state and the federal government to effectuate the envisioned transformation in their prisons.  Those steps include: (1) Establish a maximal limit on the per-capita imprisonment rate in the jurisdiction that is at least 50% lower than the current national rate and adopt mechanisms to responsibly implement and enforce the limit; (2) Adopt a comprehensive plan to bring transparency and accountability into the operations of the jurisdiction’s prisons, in part through an independent public entity’s monitoring of, and issuance of public reports on, conditions within those prisons; (3) Modify prison policies, practices, and programs to reflect and inculcate a restorative-justice ethos within the prisons; (4) Ensure that a trained and dedicated mentor is assigned to each prisoner at the outset of his or her incarceration; and (5) Implement procedures to accord prisoners a central role in the development of their individualized reentry plan, whose implementation would commence upon their incarceration.

July 30, 2011 at 10:12 PM | Permalink


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Again. No disclosure. These measures require more staffing. They are a Trojan Horse to steal from the productive to reward the left with worthless, unproven, government sinecures. This report is garbage itself, but dishonest garbage, a left wing bunko scheme.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 31, 2011 7:59:06 AM

Umm, you don't get personal responsibility by forcing it on people. Most of the people in prison have already failed that particular test, when tossed in the deep end they drowned. It would be just as expensive as the plan outlined here but why not build bigger boxes, ones capable of holding the entire criminal population with no need to release someone in order to make room for the latest transgressor?

And as was shown with the crack dealing woman deluding herself into thinking that having some schooling is going to help once she gets out, how will having a prisoner work on their own reentry plan help if it is based on faulty information? I can understand providing that faulty info, someone is way easier to manage if they have some hope, but the outlined plan provides far more illusory hope than is necessary for that task

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 31, 2011 9:19:21 AM

NEWS FLASH: The main thing that needs transforming is the thinking of the inmates.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 31, 2011 9:30:36 AM

Picking up on Soronel's insight, the thing that most struck me about this article is how faithfully (if tacitly) it embraces the idea that the way to improve the world is for the government to adopt new and better (and more expensive) programs.

This is what's really going on: People understand that actually getting criminals to change how they think about the world is really, really hard. So instead of focusing on them, we focus on the government, since we can call government officials before this legislative committee or that and nudge them to change one policy or another.

It's a replay of the old story of the fellow who's lost his car keys at night, and looks for them under the street light even though he knows that's not where he lost them. He does what's easiest, even knowing it won't work.

All this oozing stuff about changing government programs is exactly the same deal. You're not going to talk Timmy McVeigh out of wanting to do a mass murder, but you might well be able to talk the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Prison Equipment to putter a bigger TV in the rec room.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 31, 2011 9:44:41 AM

Prof. Branham is proposing a large increase in the cost of operating prisons at a time when there is enormous pressure to reduce such costs.

A highly simplified view is that young males who make bad choices under stress have the highest probability of incarceration. Some of them do not return to prison so the return rate decreases with age and the trend is toward a smaller number of older males that make bad choices when under stress. The notion of enlightened self-interest does not take into account the wide range of stress management ability.

Posted by: John Neff | Jul 31, 2011 11:55:28 AM

Bill's right on target. The question, of course, is how we do that. My view is that prisoners should have to earn privileges, small ones, like, for example, the right to chow other than Nutraloaf. And it works up from there. There have been studies about allowing prisoners access to pets etc. to help them build empathy. I don't know what the answer is, but I doubt it really involves spending a lot of money.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 31, 2011 12:27:38 PM

Correction: That's PUTTING a bigger TV in the rec room, although I suppose giving them a putter is next on the list.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 31, 2011 12:50:15 PM

The Professor's pie in the sky prison "ethos" is unachievable primarily because of the raw product that prisons manage--most inmates have no respect for others and no concept of human dignity.

These deficits are well ingrained and buzzwords like "the viability of renewal" are weak and ineffectual.

Posted by: mjs | Jul 31, 2011 1:18:33 PM

There is no coincidence that the prison population explosion occurred roughly a generation after the 1960's cultural revolution that destroyed the family. The same egg-headed academics of that generation and their progeny now get to explain how we can fix the problem they created.

Prisons cannot turn a an old beaten mule into a sports car. These are severely damaged people that have no idea of personal responsibility or motivation to improve. You cannot make an individual take drug treatment, GED class, or vocational training seriously. After 20+ years of dysfunction, it is nearly impossible to get them to "buy in" to their own self-improvement. The only cure is a return to traditional values and nuclear families.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jul 31, 2011 4:47:46 PM

Tarls is correct about the role of bastardy. However, he should add, the destruction of the family was not an afterthought. The lawyer hierarchy set out to do it, using the Trojan Horse of feminism. It hid the real agenda, to grow government size, wealth, and power. Because lawyers make 99% of all policy decisions of government, it should be considered a wholly owned subsidiary of the criminal cult enterprise that is the lawyer profession. One may now not even verbally criticize a thug without a court order. It is labelled verbal abuse and will result in one's being fired, investigated, losing a license.

The lawyer profession is the largest, most powerful, wealthiest criminal syndicate in human history. We pity Mexico for it open corruption. However, we fail to see that organized crime does not bribe government in the US. It runs the government in the USA.

At some point, the business community and the public will have had enough of their plunder of the US economy, their collaboration with the external enemies of the country, their vicious, relentless, internal attacks on our way of life, and their total mismanagement of government. I hope a controlled shift of power takes place rather than some unpredictable revolution. I have proposed the arrest of the entire hierarchy of the lawyer profession, approximately 15000 elites, an hour's fair trial, and their summary, simultaneous executions for their insurrection against the constitution. Top prosecutors are in their number. Prosecutions would be by members of the public. These trials could not be run by lawyers. The lawyer has its first loyalty to the criminal cult enterprise. It comes before any love of self, family, nation. No lawyer can be trusted to prosecute this criminal cult enterprise. Lawyers are smart. Once they see their leadership executed, they will fall in line, stop their betrayal of the nation.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 31, 2011 6:28:41 PM

Branham reveals her true motivations by making Plank 1 of her platform a goal of reducing by 50% the rate of incarceration -- with no reference to, say, issues such as crime rates at all. Reform is not her true goal. She's simply hostile to incarceration and prison.

Posted by: Blog reader | Jul 31, 2011 9:48:28 PM

NEWS FLASH: The main thing that needs transforming is the thinking of those in charge of inmates including the 'old white' uninformed and useless politicians writing the steady stream of senseless laws that continue to over populate our prisons yearly in the first place.

Posted by: james | Aug 1, 2011 7:44:02 PM

james --

Yup, it's always someone else's fault, isn't it?

And that, of course, is exactly the thinking (along with greed) that gets them into prison to start with.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 1, 2011 10:01:34 PM


You are correct about greed, but the greed is by those who work for the gubermint in one form or another.

The greed of arrow-head collectors (the site was 13,0000 years old - what a piece of actual rubbish), orchid and lobster importers, misconstruing the truth to a federal agent (in response to ambiguous questions).

You fellas have really learned how to game the system, and object to the smallest pity to the many who have been trapped by your system.

Real criminals deserve real penalties, even the death sentence, but your less than perfect system is good enough because that's what my dad and my Dad's dad told me.

You truly are a legend in your own mind.

Posted by: albeed | Aug 1, 2011 11:51:30 PM

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