OP-ED: Do State Prisons Promote Rehabilitation?

Richard Johnson is a columnist for The Post from Folsom State Prison.
Richard Johnson is a columnist for The Post from Folsom State Prison.

By Richard Wembe Johnson, Folsom Prison


Though C.D.C. (California Department of Corrections) added the word rehabilitation to its heading, I have yet to grasp the meaning of the name change.


Is it the carrot and stick approach, or is it some inarticulate concept still being visualized –while lawmakers make laws that forge harsher and longer sentences?


Since the word rehabilitation was added, the intent was simply corrections, put plainly doing time or penitence, hence the word penalize, which you were sent to the penitentiary to be corrected.


The truth about the name rehabilitation is that it’s cosmetic at best. when you have a scenario in which a considerable amount of resources are designed for corrections, instead of rehabilitation, then consequently the only foreseeable result is a complete


You can’t have two competing principles that are diametrically opposed and expect them to converge without fully understanding their existing dynamics.


For example, at Pelican Bay State Prison, which is by design a maximum security prison to hold the most dangerous prisoners, not to rehabilitate them, but rather to punish and correct them through a system of isolation in Solitary Confinement. This isn’t a secret; the purpose of the Security Housing Unit (S.H.U.) isn’t to rehab, but rather it is to keep prisoners separate from the rest of the prison inmates.


Given this realization for the C.D.C., to add the word rehabilitation as if it’s some magical revolutionary design, is an insult and classic blunder.


In S.H.U. if you’re a lifer, the chances of receiving a parole date is unthinkable – no lifer is ever given a parole date while in S.H.U.


At the same time the prospects of rehabilitation is equally unlikely. Rehabilitation is more likely to be attained by the endeavors put forth by the individuals themselves, based entirely on self-initiatives.


Even this is an uphill battle, because in the S.H.U. certain forms of self-education are notably frowned upon and viewed as some kind of gang activity that needs to be halted.

Learning about your culture, your language and your history is somehow related to gang activity, at least from the viewpoint of the prison administration.

People in the S.H.U. are generally left to their own devices. Either they can wither away as a normal regression under such decaying circumstances, or they can improvise and rise to the occasion by becoming self taught.


If a person, on their own, learns how to write, read, draw, or engage in healthy exercises, while in S.H.U., this easily can be seen as promoting gang activity. Disciplinary action will be applied to discourage such self-educational conduct.


You’re dissuaded from reading books that they think, not know, are in some way extolling gang promotion. In light of these facts, in all fairness in some quarters there does exist some commendable and noteworthy advancements toward rehabilitation, such as viable trades and college courses.


Because the obstacles are massive; you can’t simply add a word and expect it to work without hard work and dedication to change.


A complete overhaul and rethinking concerning corrections, rehabilitation and most of all the use of Security Housing Units as a panacea is needed to decline the rate of recidivism. Fixed misdirection alters forward thinking, while prohibiting progress.


But, if you change the plan, you can change the man.


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