Prisoner Rehabilitation is the restoration to useful life of a person sentenced to a prison term. The theory behind prisoner rehabilitation is that an inmate is not permanently criminal and that it is possible to restore them to a life in which they contribute to themselves and to society around them. Although the importance of punishing those who breach law and order is paramount, rehabilitation is also given priority in the United States prison system. It is the belief among humanitarians that rehabilitation should be used as an alternative to capital punishment. Prisoner rehabilitation programs vary; some work towards re-education, employment and drug treatment, while others may follow a religious or spiritual awakening route. Examples of these programs include: drug treatment, faith and religion based programs, meditation and education programs, and joint business ventures.
Many of the maximum security prisons in the United States are populated with males with little or very few employable skills. More than half of the adults incarcerated in American federal and state prisons can neither read nor write, and they have less than an eighth grade education. Many adult prisoners are school dropouts and do not finish high school after probation. A report conducted by the New York State Senate stated that the majority of state prisoners have no high school diploma and a large proportion of them are unable to read. Many prisoners are likely to have poor self-confidence and negative attitudes about education because they viewed their early experiences as being negative. To prevent a recurrence of these negative outcomes, policymakers, corrections officers, and instructors should support effective programs and treat prisoners as people who have value and who have the potential to improve their literacy.
Research has shown that prisoners who attend education programs during incarceration are less likely to return to prison in the future if they complete a course which teaches skills in how to successfully read and write. In these cases, appropriate education leads to a more humane and more tolerable prison environment for the inmates to live and the staff and officers to work. In 1994 a research project into the U.S. prison system examined more than sixty studies on prison education. The project focused on the relationship between prison education and offender behavior, the effects of prison control strategies on prison education programs, and the effects of academic and vocational programs on inmate misconduct and future re-incarceration. The project's findings demonstrated the success of prison education programs in reducing recidivism. Inmates exposed to education programs have been found to be less likely to relapse into previous behaviors than those who do not participate. Vocational programs in prison reported lower parole revocation rates, better release employment patterns, and improved disciplinary records for participants in comparison to non-participants.
Vocational programs have been highly successful due to the fact they are considered a break from traditional prison routines. Another vital factor is that they provide follow-up services for inmates when they are released, which has resulted in attracting a target population of potential learners and providing marketable training skills. The Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control conducted a study to determine the uses and usefulness of prison literacy and vocational programs on 65,000 inmates in the Federal Prison System. The results showed that inmates reported that they were more inclined to participate in programs when they saw clear opportunities to improve their capabilities for success after being released. Ex-prisoners who participated in employment and vocational education programs in prison had a better chance of maintaining employment and earning slightly more money than those who had not participated.
The United States prison system also includes a large number of adults who are economically poor or disadvantaged. Inmates released from prison are frequently unable to find jobs because they either lack experience or literacy skills. With the high cost of incarceration and the increase in the prison population, improving literacy skills is a proactive way to start addressing the problem of re-incarceration. Good literacy skills benefit prisoners in many ways ranging from the ability to fill out forms and writing letters to friends and family in the outside world, to reading books, and securing prison jobs.
Another successful form of rehabilitation is joint venture. Join venture is a late 20th century, business-based initiative where inmates are offered the opportunity to learn valuable skills that translate into opportunities for employment upon release. The first joint venture opened in July 1991 and the initiative is still going strong, providing roles for inmates in a variety of roles in industries including farming, landscaping and manufacturing. Approximately 72,000 prisoners across the United States are employed in inmate work programs at any time. An increase in positive inmate programming has proven to minimize institutional violence because of decrease in general idleness. Inmates are involved in purposeful activities which provide them with a sense of inclusion among a larger community. Join venture programs have shown the potential for successfully transitioning inmates from prison to the world of work. Helping to create success for inmates has changed the way prison culture is allowed to dictate interaction at every level of institutional life.
The United States incarcerates a greater number of its population than any other industrialized country in the world. Between 1975 and 1990, the number of inmates in state and federal prisons grew by almost 200 percent. By 1998, one in every 150 U.S. residents was serving time in a federal prison. This increased in the early years of the 21st century, with over 2.2 million people in prison at the end of 2009.