IN the heated national debate over solutions to crime and
violence in society, should we listen to the suggestions of Ted
Garrety, Robert Lena, Vernard Ansari, and Ken Gauthier?
And what about Robert Pacheco, Arthur Legge, Robert Gaumond,
Robert McClary, and Toni Olszewski? Do they want more prisons built
to house America's worst felons for life? Should drugs be
legalized? Can rehabilitation take place?
These men are inmates at Norfolk Correctional Institution, a
medium-security state prison outside of Boston. They are part of a
unique master's degree program sponsored by Boston University (BU)
in the prison and taught by Paule Verdet, a retired sociology
"These are intelligent men. Most have college degrees, some
earned before prison," Ms. Verdet says.
According to Ann Marchitelli, the principal of the adult
learning center at Norfolk, 73 percent of the inmates enter the
prison with skills below the eighth-grade level in reading and
The range of crimes of these inmate-students includes murder,
sex offenses, manslaughter, and drug offenses. Sentences are from
double life to less than three years. Most of society would
conclude that these convicted felons, with or without academic
skills, got what they deserved. The men broke laws, were tried,
convicted, and sentenced. The justice system works.
But in a larger context, US prisons have the highest rate of
incarceration in the world, plus a 67 percent recidivism rate.
Many penologists conclude that the US justice system, including
rehabilitation, is not working. They say the pillars of society -
families, schools, and churches - are not reckoning with the
wrenching social changes contributing to crime. Despite increased
law- enforcement efforts, tougher laws, and hundreds of costly new
prisons, crime rates remain high. Public safety has not increased.
Will more prisons reduce crime and provide safety? "No," says
Mr. Garrety, seated in the Norfolk classroom. "Prisons are not
held accountable for what they don't do. It's called the
`department of corrections,' which implies rehabilitation. But a
prison is an ineffective bureaucracy protecting the status quo
instead of innovating. It puts out defective goods, yet still
To lower recidivism rates, Garrety urges, make prison operations
private. The goal has to be to reduce recidivism by teaching
marketable skills to inmates, perhaps with business partnerships to
train employees for specific companies. "When prisons are under
fiscal pressure," he says, "rehabilitation programs are usually
Mr. Gaumond says he and others in the class offered to help
other inmates earn their high school equivalency degrees. …