Concept of the Month -- January 2008

Does Prison Make a Person a "Worse Criminal"?

Prison has frequently been called a "school for crime." Many professionals think that sending an offender to prison inevitably makes him worse. That is, he learns new tricks of the trade. Is this really true?

In prison, the most frequent topics of discussion are getting out, crime, sex, and drugs. This is hardly surprising. It is also the case that the criminal mind is alive and well, and thus one reads about the assaults, thefts, contraband, and other offenses committed in prison.

After more than 30 years of interviewing offenders, I have learned the following. Temptations abound in correctional facilities just as they do on the outside. A person can become a "student" of crime, make new connections, and continue on the path that he has already been traveling. However, it is a matter of individual choice! Inmates have told me emphatically that if a man or woman minds his own business, he does not have to participate in the criminal culture or get embroiled in institutional intrigues. There are offenders who make the time serve them well while they are serving time. They take classes, read, enroll in correspondence courses and try to improve themselves. While remaining respectful and friendly toward their fellow inmates, they stay away from the gambling, the endless discussions about drugs and crimes, and do not become involved in compromising relationships.

The most important thing, I am told, is that an inmate not hold himself out to be better than others or give any indication that he is a "snitch" or informant. With determination and self-restraint, a man or woman can emerge from prison a better person than when he or she entered!

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