Over at US News, I have a post commenting about the abusive conditions of New York City’s Rikers Island and recent statements made by federal prosecutor, Preet Bharara, who threatened to sue the city if it does not achieve reform soon. Although improving Rikers is both necessary and time-sensitive, I argue that it should be an impetus for implementing greater reform of our prison system overall. The real tragedy is our focus on punishment rather than rehabilitation, which traps prisoners in a prison-to-poverty pipeline:
Given that evidence shows prison education reduces recidivism and offers a high rate of return on the government’s investment, it is strange that as a country we ignore this method of reducing crime and boosting the economy. And to make matters worse, while in many European countries, such as Denmark and Finland, prison records are wiped clean within five years of release, convicts in America are often are marked for the rest of their lives.
In essence, we are taking our least educated, least socially mobile and most drug addicted citizens and making it even harder for them to obtain education and employment upon release from prison.
So this is the real tragedy of incarceration in America: not that prisoners have to suffer beatings and solitary confinement (horrific though that is), but that they are punished long after they’ve left their jail cells.