Thinking Inside the Box
A Look at Correctional Facility Reform from Within
Guest blog by Scott Lowe, Northern State Correctional Facility
As I understand from local news reports, a forum has been opened by the Attorney General, Bill Sorrell, between the citizens of this state and his office regarding the increasing number of incarcerated persons in our jails and prisons.
With that in mind, I would like to offer the observations and thoughts of an educated 45 year old first-time felony offender, currently incarcerated in the Vermont Correctional system. Namely, myself.
Currently, the Vermont Correctional system is like that of placing a band aid on an amputation, to put it quite bluntly. There is continued overcrowding, due to individuals being incarcerated for non-violent offenses, and the incarceration is mainly used solely as a punitive measure, and not as a corrective measure, as its name (correctional system), implies.
I have been incarcerated in the Vermont Correctional system for five (5) consecutive years. And during that time, I have not witnessed hardly anything resembling “correction” at any of the facilities I have resided at. Currently most facilities operate on a “do as I say, not as I do” and “because I said so” mentality and attitude. Staff demand and expect the utmost respect from inmates. Yet most correctional staff refuse to show any in return.
Most inmates really do wish to turn their lives around. But these same inmates are not even allowed to volunteer for any risk-reduction programs or to talk pro-active role in their own rehabilitation and/or recovery.
New and/or more prisons are not the answers to our problems of overcrowding and mass incarceration. And building human warehouses is costly to not only those incarcerated, but also the Vermont taxpayer. As human beings, we cannot just put the convicted into a penal “warehouse”, call it a “correctional facility”, and just let them sit in a medicated stupor, watching television and wasting taxpayer money.
Here is one look at how we (both the incarcerated and free world residents of Vermont) can overcome the issues relating to the ever-bulging mass incarceration, and financial, emotional, and social demands that come with it.
First, each convicted individual must be assessed prior to incarceration. This assessment would determine the circumstances of, and surrounding the crime for which the individual was convicted, including both interior (such as psychological issues), and exterior motivators like substance abuse. It would also consider factors such as education, social associations and family cohesion.
After the assessment phase, a recommendation for a term of incarceration is made. And during the entire time of incarceration, individuals are encouraged with some form of incentive and required to work on active therapy and rehabilitation. Relying more on intervention and counseling in a therapeutic setting, and less on pharmacological approach.
A psychologist once to me… “The only way to solve a problem, is to learn its cause, and deal with or remove that cause.”
All Vermonters (and human beings, for that matter), have a responsibility to take care of our own men and women, young and old, rather than shuffle them off to someone else that may treat them only slightly above what is considered “inhumane.”
Just like any other reformation, this will be an evolution of how we can actively and pro-socially solve the problems we currently face in the “correctional system”. And with everyone’s help, the day will soon come when we can say that we “help our convicted correct themselves” and stand proudly with them, side-by-side in our collective accomplishments.
-Scott Lowe, December 18, 2015