We must do more to rehabilitate US inmates

We must do more to rehabilitate US inmates
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The recent focus on the part of American elected officials and policymakers on the public policy challenge of prison reform must be applauded and supported. 

Criminal justice figures in the United States are startling. More than 2.3 million people are jailed in the U.S., more than any country on Earth. The U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) reports that, tragically, almost half of former inmates are arrested again within eight years of their release from prison, whether for a new offense or for violating conditions of their parole or release. 

At present, U.S. justice system efforts to reduce recidivism focus on providing inmates access to education, skills training and job placement. Yet, all too often these programs fall short, failing to address the core needs of the inmate.

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Tragically, a lack of emphasis on prisoner rehabilitation contributes to the problem of recidivism in the American prison system. The U.S. prison system lacks the prisoner rehabilitation programs needed to help inmates take control of their emotions and stress, needed steps in order to transform the inmate from within and address the anger and despair that led the individual to opt for a life of crime.

 

One way to view this policy vacuum is to consider how doctors handle the sick and infirm. When people fall ill, physicians consult with their patients and follow with prescribing the necessary medications and administering treatment.

Yet, sadly, when an individual in the U.S. commits a crime, all too often there are no rehabilitation programs that help the offender address the core issues — rage, sadness, anguish, misery, frustration, greed, jealousy, vengeance — that led him or her to commit the crime. The offender is usually locked away and not given access to effective consultation, evaluation and treatment for his or her core issues.

Now is a promising time to fix this unaddressed gap in America’s prison policy. U.S. inmates would be well served by lawmakers and other relevant parties seizing the initiative of the current criminal justice reform movement and devoting the resources for instituting effective prisoner rehabilitation programs.

Prisoner rehabilitation programs must involve the entire criminal justice community — incarcerated adults; juveniles and their families; ex-offenders; victims of violence and crime; correctional officers; and law enforcement administrators, while also focusing on the important roles of various applications of meditation and stress management, among other areas.

My organization is trying to do its part by providing prisoner rehabilitation programs in U.S. jails nationwide with inmates of all ages as well as correctional officers and law enforcement. These programs teach participants how to use meditation and breathing techniques to reduce the accumulated effects of stress and negative emotions. This unique practice calms the nervous system, enhances well-being, boosts energy and is a tool participants can use on their own to manage the negative emotions that cause conflict, destructive behaviors, lethargy and stress.

The course also includes practical life-skills training to help participants become more aware and in control of their unhealthy mental and behavioral habits.

As the United States continues to look for ways to reduce recidivism, we should remember that individuals commit crimes when they are unable to control their emotions and their impulses. We cannot throw these individuals in the stressful confines of jail and expect them to return to society as model citizens if we fail to administer the rehabilitative services they need as fellow human beings.

We have obstacles to overcome. This begins with educating elected officials, administrators and law enforcement of the need for instituting more effective prisoner rehabilitation programs in the U.S. justice system.

Let us work to put an end to any false impression by lawmakers and others that these remedies are soft, extra-curricular activities for inmates. Prisoner rehabilitation programs that focus on stress management and meditation are not retreats — rather, they are structured courses with curricula that deliver results on the recovery and reformation of inmates.

We need elected leaders to provide these prisoner rehabilitation programs with the same commitment of resources that our prison budgets would provide other necessary programs. These investments will save money in the long run by substantially lowering recidivism.

Let’s start providing U.S. inmates with the dignity and tools that they will need to succeed in society and in life.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the founder of The Art of Living Foundation, the largest volunteer-based NGO in the world today dedicated to building a global society that is free of violence, stress and misery.