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Offender Treatment Centers and Work Program Ideas

The Law

Code of Virginia 53.1-32 states that the director shall evaluate prisoners' attitude, education, risk, and place all offenders in proper job assignment. Code of Virginia 53.1-32 states that from July 1, 1998, and thereafter, participation is mandatory for an average of forty hours per week. Code of Virginia 53.1-41 states that the director shall provide offenders with opportunities to work.

To Warehouse Or Rehabilitate?

The law is clear that offenders should work. Prisons were once built with industries such as tag shops, wood shops, boot shops, sewing shops, soap shops, print shops etc. These were to provide offenders a productive way to pass time while learning job skills, developing good work ethic and earn a higher pay rate for this work. In fact, several prisons once provided nearly all the food for VADOC offenders including beef, pork, fruit, and vegetables. In later years prison industries have declined. More of our food is of lower quality, highly processed and less healthy which contributes to various health problems.

Providing inmate healthcare is a rising cost that is a financial burden on Virginia taxpayers. According to Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, VADOC offenders are developing diabetes, heart disease, and cancer at a rate thirty times faster than the public. This is a result of not being allowed to live physically active lives. Assignments requiring physical activity would foster increased competence of work responsibilities and yield health benefits. This could be safely done with proper security and supervision. It is well documented that offenders with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, etc. find working with edible crops and livestock therapeutic.

Today, VADOC tends to warehouse offenders where many people only work a few hours a week, if any at all. It is typical for inmates to get two hours of school four times a week, while others may get an hour and a half of treatment program This is producing people who experience difficulty transitioning from prison back to a forty hour work week once released back into society. This results in offenders experiencing low self esteem and feelings of hopelessness and depression.

Offender, their families and society feel that VADOC is failing them. There are many productive discussions among offenders and their families as to what could be done to rectify this present crisis. A self-supporting system (workshops and food production) would help lessen the financial burden on tax payers and offender families. This is well documented by intensive previous studies. Programs that involve incentives for sentence reduction has proven both sound and effective in offender's rehabilitation. These programs center on physical work mirroring actual job responsibility and work conditions, i.e. farm work, facility maintenance, new construction, state property maintenance and enhancement.

Society's Purpose For Prison

This introduces the concept that prisoners follow the factory paradigm. There is an input from the courts the prisons use a process and there is an output back to society. Since the paying customers of this factory are the Virginia taxpayers, don't they have the right to expect a viable product for the more than a billion dollars they spend on the DOC? Are low esteem ex-cons that are unsuitable to work 40 hours a week the product they believe they are paying such an astronomical bill for?

Rehabilitative Opportunities

Offenders should not be denied opportunities to work solely based on their crime or length of sentence if they wish to engage in positive productive activity. If an individual has been convicted of a "serious" crime, isn't it more important to rehabilitate them, not less? Only inmates with behavioral issues should be denied certain work opportunities.

As part of reentry and reintegration back into the community, offenders that are within two years or release should be sent back to their regional jail or a VADOC work center and allowed to work an outside job Monday through Friday. This would allow the offenders to earn a decent wage and save for a home or vehicle and pay court cost and/or child support instead of leaving the system below the poverty level. A step down furlough program could be implemented on weekdays to allow the offender to spend an hour out with family and increase in time the closer they get to release. Opportunity for furlough program participation would be dependent on individual's past programs and work participation and performance.

Tattoo removal should be part of treatment and reentry if requested. Many offenders have tattoos that they wish to have removed such as head, face, neck and/or gang related which would improve their appearance and increase the likelihood of post incarceration release. Additionally, offenders who wish to have a voluntary vasectomy or a tubal ligation should be offered the procedure while incarcerated.

Virginia needs to use the information from the Bureau of Justice statistics, VACORIS assessment, and other valuable resources to treat offenders with more humanity and strive to return them back to society in good physical, mental, and financial condition. It is clear that young adults make bad decisions as a result of high testosterone, adrenalin, and not thinking things through. The evidence also shows that with age criminality drops. This drop is sharp at age thirty-five. People change with time, mostly for good, if given proper incentives, instruction, guidance in cultivating self-worth and a positive, productive work ethic. This would promote the desire to be a productive, contributing taxpaying member of their community.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics, crime specific recidivism rates clearly show what categories of offenders respond best to reentering society and these finding should be used to stop fear mongers from scaring the public into believing that tough on crime is the only option. For example, those convicted of murder have the lowest recidivism rate and yet are the most commonly cited example of who should not be given opportunities.

The best way to return people to society would be with parole. Policy makers should make it clear to the public that just because a parole system is in place, that only suitable offenders with low risk recidivism rates would be paroled. Having real incentives will produce the desired results faster and can save the taxpayers money. When the cost of incarceration is $34,000 +/year, it is fiscally irresponsible to drag out the debts owed to society for decades especially if they be paid sooner. After all, the point is to rehabilitate and release people.

Prisoner should allow one offender to be elected from each pod to be a representative and for those representatives to form a committee to discus correctional issues with staff, administration, and elected officials on issues of importance such as parole, earned sentence credits, localized food production, greenhouse, container gardens, aquaculture, hydroponics, social projects, manual powered lawn mowers, etc. that could benefit offenders, VADOC and society. The minutes of such meetings should be made public. As the vast majority (95%) of offenders have a release date where they will return to society to be someone's neighbor, the public has a vested interest in what sort of transformative process their billion dollar DOC is utilizing.


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