Reform in the Making: The Implementation of Social Policy in Prison

Reform in the Making: The Implementation of Social Policy in Prison

Reform in the Making: The Implementation of Social Policy in Prison

Reform in the Making: The Implementation of Social Policy in Prison


Is it time to give up on rehabilitating criminals? Record numbers of Americans are going to prison, and most of them will eventually return to society with a high chance of becoming repeat offenders. But a decision to abandon rehabilitation programs now would be premature warns Ann Chih Lin, who finds that little attention has been given to how these programs are actually implemented and why they tend to fail. In Reform in the Making, she not only supplies much-needed information on the process of program implementation but she also considers its social context, the daily realities faced by prison staff and inmates. By offering an in-depth look at common rehabilitation programs currently in operation -- education, job training and drug treatment -- and examining how they are used or misused, Lin offers a practical approach to understanding their high failure rate and how the situation could be improved.

Based on extensive observation and over 350 interviews with staff and prisoners in five medium-security male prisons, the book contrasts successfully implemented programs with subverted, abandoned, or neglected programs (those which


At Drake Correctional Center—a prison built in the first half of the twentieth century, with cellblocks that still boast bars rather than doors—literacy classes are held in a room looking incongruously like an elementary school classroom. With the alphabet marching in cursive script around the walls and the date written on an otherwise pristine blackboard, about twenty functionally illiterate men sit facing their teacher. The men range in age from 20 to 55; some have the knitted caps of Black Muslims, others a host of religious medals dangling around their necks. Though you cannot tell from looking at them, their numbers include bank robbers, crack sellers, those who grow or transport pot; there are Marielitos from Cuban prisons, and Native Americans convicted of crimes on the reservation. Six or seven of the men are sitting, heads in hands, staring at workbooks; the rest are sleeping, talking, or doodling. The teacher reads a newspaper at her desk in front, looking up once in a while to restore order or answer a question when someone approaches her. Given the amount of sleeping and staring in the classroom, the occasions requiring her intervention are few.

Discussing the class with me later, she shrugs, frustrated and resigned. The men are in a mandatory literacy program, she explains, and most stay only because the alternative is time in solitary confinement, and a restricted choice of prison jobs. Their lack of motivation, and the vast differences in their aptitudes and knowledge, mean that individualized study is the only way to run a classroom. She assigns lessons and helps the ones who ask her for help; their preparation is so uneven that even doing this is a challenge. As for everyone else, she lets them sit as long as they don't cause trouble; it's their problem if they don't want to learn.

In a similar classroom, halfway across the country at Beaverton Correctional Center, the same mix of black, white, Hispanic, and Native American men are also studying math. Like the students at Drake, these men have long passed their schooldays; they are also mandatory students, condemned to class because of their low test scores. But instead of sleeping or staring, these men are out of their seats, clustered in groups of four around tables with sheets of scrap paper, animatedly arguing about math . . .

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