December 3, 2013

By Taylor Nichols

Photo by Shaylee Vigil
Photo by Shaylee Vigil

The American prison system is in dire need of reform. A functional and effective prison system keeps us feeling safe in our day-to-day lives, and without it we would have little incentive, save our own morality, to refrain from acting in a way that could have serious negative effects on others.

While it’s depressing that we live in a world where we can’t trust other people, it’s a fact. As a result, we rely on the legal system and the ominous repercussions of breaking the law to keep everyone else, and even ourselves, in check.

Mental illness is a huge contemporary issue, and although it has been heavily researched it is still a largely unexplained and uncertain area. Solutions for mental problems are varied and many are controversial, such as medication, therapy, and even corrective brain surgery.

Many of the individuals who commit crimes and are or have been institutionalized as a result suffer from moderate to severe mental issues and instability. One would think the obvious solution in this type of situation would be to provide as much assistance as we can in the form of counseling and other rehabilitative methods to help the people who need it get back to at least a somewhat normal and functioning mindset. If human compassion doesn’t provide enough motivation, then we should do so at least in the interest of keeping these individuals and the people around them safe.

Instead, prison is often a place where people are raped, abused, killed, and injured by other inmates and prison staff, subjected to various forms of cruel and unusual punishment, and often left in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. Furthermore, prisoners with mental illnesses are often not provided with the kind of help that is necessary to work through their issues and get to a better state.

It is not easy to cope with mental issues, and when you are locked in a living hell by your government with thousands of other people in the same position, it seems nearly impossible to come out of prison with anything but a deeply negative outlook on life and the way our society is structured.

This is a self-perpetuating cycle, which largely contributes to a number of problems we as a society face today. The goal should be to foster a more positive experience, to protect the people of our country, and to provide the kinds of support mentally unstable people need to become healthier and safer individuals.

Their time in prison could be taken advantage of to better themselves as people and to reach a more stable mental state, so that when they are released they don’t have the same course of action and outlook on life that put them in prison in the first place.

Negative circumstances and using fear as a method of control are unquestionably going to have a negative effect upon those subjected to them and will only intensify and worsen an already bleak situation.

Positive environments focused on rehabilitation are conducive to a positive outcome and would provide a much more viable solution. Restructuring the prison system would have a ripple effect, and the benefits would carry on to many of our current issues as a society which have yet to be effectively resolved.


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