Nov. 7, 2012
Facing the U.S. Prison Problem 2.3 Million Strong is a massive, thoughtful book written by someone from inside "the belly of the beast," who knows from years of personal experience what works and what doesn't. Ironically, most prisons today are not set up to rehabilitate prisoners but to do the opposite – simply to warehouse ever-increasing numbers of them until their eventual release with little or no practical training to succeed on the outside. Shawn Griffith, who spent almost 24 years in Florida prisons until his release in 2012 at age 41, advocates mightily that the real purpose of prison, in addition to punishment, should be to enable the 90 percent who will eventually be released to cope on the outside and not return to prison within the first three years, as now just under half of all released prisoners do.
Shawn Griffith shows how tough-on-crime politicians, supported by guard unions and private prison corporations, have a vested interest in keeping the recidivism rate high. Instead of fostering in-prison drug rehab, job training, impulse control, and close family ties, prisons continually slash these critical programs to hire more guards and build more prisons. In California, 70 percent of the prison budget goes to pay the 31,000 guards it employs and only 5 percent to vocational programs to reduce recidivism. Until taxpayers grasp how counterproductive this approach truly is in providing public safety, there will be no chance for meaningful prison reform.
by Shawn R. Griffith
This book isn’t just a commentary on correctional problems and solutions. Although my main goal is to present the mistakes that I believe U.S. policy makers have been making, it is also to share the human side of the story. By integrating my own personal experiences with statistics and examples from different corrections systems around the nation, I am attempting to discredit the general perception that the system is designed to enforce and protect justice for everyone. The U.S. criminal justice system is an economically and politically profitable enterprise for special interest groups in this country. The general taxpayer needs to understand how the abusive policies fostered by these groups worsen the U.S. prison problem and the debt crisis through wasted corrections expenditures.
Unfortunately, the system commonly attracts a darker side of people’s personalities, making compassion for those incarcerated a rare trait among many corrections officials. As a consequence, hidden behind the walls, huge numbers of human beings have their spirits broken daily. Secretly, many suffer false disciplinary reports, illegitimate confiscation or destruction of personal property, physical beatings, rape, and sometimes fraudulent criminal penalties. Substandard nutrition, indifference to serious medical needs, and policies that encourage laziness have also become common. These practices help to sustain rates of recidivism, which is defined as a return to prison within three years of release.