Since the 18th century we have lived with a prison model for ‘correction’. In fact, America’s first prison was founded in 1790 by the Pennsylvanian Quakers. It was thought that prisoners would spend time being penitent, leading to behavior change, and thus, this place was called a penitentiary. We now know through meta-analytic research that this model absolutely does not work (see the National Institute of Corrections library for a variety of resources and research).
What does work to turn lives around? Responding to the individual’s needs in the area(s) that puts him/her at risk for future criminal justice involvement. As an example, if substance abuse is a problem, we should provide opportunities for drug/alcohol therapy. Does this person have anti-social thinking that leads to criminal behavior? Cognitive behavioral treatment is a proven method offering the opportunity to change poor thinking patterns. You can learn much more about evidence-based practices at the National Institute of Corrections library.
We can’t afford to build enough jails and/or prisons to lock away each person who has made a mistake in their life. It is too costly both from the expense of lost lives and also tax-payer dollars. What we can do is hold offenders accountable (certainly!) and also help them turn their lives around with the appropriate resources. The research shows that, not only does this model offer improved outcomes in reduced crime, it is also a less expensive method of response.
Kudos to Minnesota’s Department of Corrections for supporting inmates who are taking necessary steps to change their behavior and improve their lives. It’s the right thing to do.