For the past few weeks I have been reading about the prison problem.
I'm really amazed by the lack of reality some have about the Dept. of Corrections (DOC).
If you never worked inside the system, it is hard to fathom what is really going on.
Let's begin on how an average day begins. The inmates are awakened to go to early pill line and then breakfast at around 7:30 a.m. They return to the housing units. The ones that do work go to their work details, and the rest get to go out and play in the yard until about 10 or 10:30 a.m.
While this is going on, there are activities going on in the gym like weight lifting, basketball and other activities.
They also go to the library and school.
In the summer they have structured sports in the yard, like football, softball, soccer, horseshoes, handball. Then to top all that off they have an ice cream shed. They can purchase cold drinks and ice cream and bottled water, and when the weather is hot, they can get all these items with tickets that they purchase through the commissary.
The commissary is a store where inmates can buy and purchase items that have nothing to do with being in prison - potato chips, beef jerky, bagels, sugar, rice, candy bars, noodles, cheese products, cookies and cakes and other items.
They also have access to buy outside baked goods, like pies, cakes, donuts and Girl Scout cookies. They have flat screen TVs in their cells, radios, and they purchase phone cards. They also can purchase books and art supplies so they can paint and do other non-productive activities.
They can buy boots and sneakers that can cost at least $100.
The school is a joke. They go to classes that last for maybe an hour. The real problem is they didn't go to school when they were free.
What everyone thinks is hard time isn't really that bad.
The other real problems with the DOC stem from recidivism and overcrowding. Why? For the past 25 years the system has been trying to use treatment to fix the problem.
It is not working. Treatment has no deterrents to keep these convicted felons from coming back. So what does treatment really do? It costs the state more than people think. Instead of the prisons having farms and cattle and pigs and other farm animals that the inmates used to tend to feed themselves, everything is bought.
Pennsylvania prison officials went to Europe to see how the criminal justice system works there and to bring home some ideas that can be used to improve our operations. Why not meet with those that are working in this system first? Going on a junket to Europe is a joke.
This will not fix a thing.
As now the price for restitution was close to half a million dollars. Instead of running the prisons like a daycare program, those incarcerated should be paying off their restitutions.
Instead of letting them play all day, put them to work in the fields and give them some hard time instead of playtime.
To build a new prison and state that it will help curb recidivism is a joke. Bringing in more psychologists and therapists is not the answer, either.
The DOC has run its course with treatment but refuses to acknowledge that it is not working. There has been too much nepotism within the system and until this issue gets fixed it will never end.
(The writer is a retired officer from the Department in Corrections.)