“No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.” – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
What is the role of prisons within our society? A prison is a facility that cages individuals for committing a crime, where their freedom, movement and access to nearly everything is restricted. The individual does not have a choice but to go and the prison does not have a choice but to take them. Being imprisoned often results in financial burdens, broken families, damaged future job prospects, sometimes worsened physical and mental damage, and even learned criminal behavior. But is that how we, as a society, want to leave these individuals?
A prison should be so much more than just a place that holds individuals until their allocated time has expired; It should be a place that does everything possible to deter, reform, rehabilitate, and restore an individual in order to help them turn their life around. The objective for prison needs to be one that ensures when an individual walks out of the gates on their last day, they never return again.
The Mandela Rules themselves try to help turn imprisonment from humiliation and deprivation of liberty into personal development leading to release. This mentality will benefit society as a whole to ensure that the cycle of the system does not continue.
As former President Obama stated during his Criminal Justice Reform Speech in 2015, “While people in our prisons made some mistakes, and sometimes big mistakes, they are also Americans. We have to make sure that as they do their time and pay back their debt to society, we are increasing the possibility that they can turn their lives around.”
So what should we, as a society, do to ensure this rehabilitation process? If rehabilitation means providing education, work skills, therapy, and rehab to these individuals, why not give it to them? Seeing these individuals leave the gates in better shape than when they were put in is far more efficient than seeing them return within a year.