Saturday, September 17, 2016

Can Prisoners Be Reformed with the Growth Mindset?

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In the world of prisons, the goal used to be to reform people who had gone wrong in life, and release them back into society in a better condition and better equipped to make it in the law-abiding world. In the late seventies and early eighties, though, these goals were largely abandoned in favor of segregating evil-doers from the rest of society. Reform turned into warehousing, and sentences gradually became longer and longer.

Programs like vocational training, therapy, and education were cut drastically. Jails and lower-level prisons have now become “gladiator academies”, where prisoners only learn how to be a better, more dangerous and more effective criminals. As it stands, the United States, with 5% of the world’s population, houses more than 25% of all prisoners.

The problem is that most of these prisoners will eventually be released back into society. Lately there have been more and more calls for prison reform and reductions in drastic sentencing. Faced with the idea that most of these individuals will eventually be released, do we as a society want to consider re-evaluating reform and rehabilitation? Of course, people with the fixed mindset see criminality as a non- treatable and irreversible ‘disease’. The best thing to do, according to people with the fixed mindset, is to remove or quarantine convicts from the rest of the population, and store them for decades, or even for life in prisons where they cannot ‘infect’ the rest of society. It’s a way to reduce crime by removing the criminals from society, rather than by removing criminality from society.

People with the growth mindset, however, recognize that everyone has basic needs and wishes, and they all want to grow, adapt, reach new goals and learn something new. The trouble is that when people become desperate, fall off the tracks, and get caught (because they are not professional “bad guys”), it is very difficult for them to find a decent job when they are released from prison. Left with few alternatives, most prisoners choose to develop their criminal skills. If given an opportunity and the right environment and direction, however, many prisoners would probably want to learn and develop new skills that can be useful in the law-abiding society. After all, who wants to live their whole life worrying about getting caught?

It would be more beneficial and less costly to society if we equip convicts with new skills and possibilities, so they don’t have to revert back to and rely on their criminal skills. It would certainly help lower the recidivism rates if prisoners learn skills and abilities that will help them in the law-abiding world. Here’s another place where changing the environment could help create real reform and rehabilitation.

We as a society must choose whether we want our prisons to be a revolving door and a ‘growth industry’, steadily releasing a stream of broken and dangerous ex-convicts into our communities, or if we want to apply the growth mindset, to try to make the prisons once again a place of reform and rehabilitation.


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