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Vigorous education
by Jan Sand
2006-10-06 09:57:23
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Although grammar and high schools and colleges and universities are seen as the core of education in society, many other very active social institutions are essentially educative. The obvious ones deal with advertising, newsgathering and exposition, museums, legal situations dealing with juries and interviews of suspects, computer search engines, priests in the pulpit, and, what is not so obvious, prisons. It usually does not come under close examination, but how prisons actually teach and how efficient the process might be.

Oscar Wilde once noted: “As one reads history…one is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted; and a community is more brutalized by the habitual employment of punishment than it is by the occasional occurrences of crime.”

Once the decision is made that the point of constructing a prison is to correct the behavior of the occupants rather than to satisfy society’s appetite for retribution, then certain procedures should follow. The initial assumption is that the legal system, which placed the prisoner in prison, is operating properly. The recent pardon or release of a good number of prisoners in the USA, whose innocence was validated by DNA evidence after they had served long terms in prison, indicates that this assumption is frequently incorrect.

Undoubtedly, there are many more cases of the imprisonment of innocents, where DNA evidence is not available or does not apply. The case has been made that people of color, black or otherwise are more frequently incarcerated than whites under similar circumstances. In at least some of these cases, it has been proved that confessions have been elicited through the use of police torture so it is evident that the atrocities revealed in current US military and CIA practice have a long tradition in the States, whatever the politicians proclaim.

I mention this to indicate that any particular prisoner’s viewpoint as to his or her treatment is conditioned on the basis of whether or not they are actually guilty. And, of course, it would be incorrect to assume that all prison guards and officials are necessarily corrupt or sadistic. There are surely people in prison who are truly dangerous and, of course, truly guilty of whatever crime they had been accused. What is in doubt is how many of each there may be and what the specific circumstances were that initiated the criminal action.

ovi_edu02_400Each human being is very much an individual and reacts to treatment in an individual manner. The long and arduous procedure that patient and psychologist undergoes in untangling mental problems and instituting socially acceptable behavior indicates that reforming a psyche is a delicate and highly difficult and very frequently unsuccessful enterprise. The legal procedure of exiling a convicted criminal to the brutal environment of a prison for a random period of time with the optimistic expectation that he will automatically emerge a well behaved citizen, considering the psychological factors involved verges on insanity. Released back into the more or less same social situation but probably more brutalized by prison and with the added problem of a prison record, the recent recidivism rate is between 70 and 80% in the USA. (As an American, I am treating American circumstances. I imagine figures vary from country to country.)

It is estimated that it costs between $22,000 and $25,000 a year to keep one prisoner incarcerated. Normal educational costs for pupils in school are well under half that. I am not sure of the success rate of educating pupils nor whether a sensible comparison should be made between the two on a monetary basis, but it does not seem to me that, considered as an educational institution, a prison is particularly successful.

If mistreating people for a specified period of time is the standard recipe that society provides for behavior not acceptable to society and figures indicate it is largely a waste of money and people, there are a few of questions that should be asked.

Why has this practice gone on so long unquestioned?
Can society afford this perennial inefficiency when it is so in need of the funds wasted?
Is there any consensus of people experienced in the field to provide more sensible and more successful social practices?
Am I assuming too many good intentions on the part of society and not accrediting humanity in general with an overwhelming appetite for sadistic cruelty which only this type of unthinking viciousness can provide?
Are the problems solvable?

Beats me.

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Thanos2006-10-05 10:30:36
Even though I think these kind os problems are not easily solveble, I think you put too many good intentions on humanity as it has become.

Sand2006-10-05 16:03:22
Inside every pessimist is an optimist screaming to get out.

Asa2006-10-05 19:14:26
I thought a pessimist was an optimist with experience.

Thanos2006-10-05 20:08:43

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