The road to redeem ourselves is extremely hard already in normal situations, just like when we have to ask for forgiveness and apologize for lying to one of our friends, or when we want to prove that the grade we got at one exam is not what we deserve. However, the path to redemption is harder for incarcerated people with no access to rehabilitative programs.
The United States of America is the country with the highest incarceration rate, followed by China and Brazil. In the United States, incarceration is used as a primary form of punishment for the commission of felonies and other offenses or misdemeanors. Despite incarceration is a form of punishment, many Departments of Correction try to tout its rehabilitative function, but is it really rehabilitative if the Country still has the largest prison population in the World and the highest per-capita incarceration rate? Inevitably, if the rehabilitative function was effective then the incarceration rate would have dropped; on the other hand, if the punishment function played a deterrent role, then the crime rate would have dropped as well.
Is redemption easy for incarcerated people? The answer is clearly “No”. Besides the unlivable conditions incarcerated people exist in – which many times violate both Human Rights and the 8th Amendment – the lack of rehabilitative programs is one of the biggest issues of the United States’ prison system. Before addressing the various issues of redemption for incarcerated people, we should take into consideration the prison population of the whole Country, the majority of which is formed by: high school dropouts, people that did not have the chance to finish their education and people addicted to different substances (alcohol, drugs and prescription narcotics like Fentanyl). All these people are connected to each other by an invisible “fil rouge”: their social background. Indeed, crime is a social problem and incarceration is just a short-term solution for an issue that needs long-term action.
Taking into consideration the whole prison population, we can notice how much rehabilitation programs are needed. Indeed, improving certain programs such as GED and Academic education, Career Technical education (CTE), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Substance Use Disorder Treatment (SUDT) and Employment Preparation – amongst many other, that will definitely create an easier path to redemption. The COVID-19 crisis created even more difficulties for incarcerated people that are trying to redeem themselves from the mistakes they have made in the past. Programs have been suspended – or not carried out regularly – for more than one year now and, while the vaccination rate rises for incarcerated people, it stays extremely low for corrections officers and prison staff, therefore increasing the possibility of a virus outbreak and the suspension of programs. Prison staff should always be held accountable for programs suspension. In California, for example, many State Institutions have been ordered by a federal judge to set up cameras and bodycams to control Correctional Officers’ misbehaviors and it ended up in a Statewide protest that caused a staff shortage and therefore resulted in the suspension of various programs and prevented incarcerated people from calling their families and Loved Ones on the outside, thus withholding the strongest type of rehabilitation: Keeping in touch with their families.
Redemption, for people in prison, is not possible right now. Rehabilitative programs can definitely bring people out of prison and out of the self-destructive behaviors that lead them there, but what does happen once they get out? Incarcerated people – and therefore people who served time – are stigmatized and even out here it will be extremely difficult for them to find a good job and redeem themselves by living a lawful life without falling back into self-destruction. Long-term solutions are needed, both to prevent people from serving time and to reduce the disproportionately high recidivism rate in the United States of America.