For many who have broken the law, the real punishment begins not when they are processed into prison, but when they are finally ejected from their concertina-enclosed cages into a vengeful society that won't allow them to redeem themselves, branding them as forever bad.
"This narrative implies that the real reentry problem is that this population is reentering society at all (if it were not for the expense, the reentry problem could be solved by keeping people who commit crimes in prison forever). The moral undertone to this narrative is one of anger and disgust toward (or, more mildly, frustration with) a group of dangerous people who need to be watched. [Former prisoners] are not people we want to help -- in part because they are, in some sense, beyond help…. [It] is clear that there is some interest in improving offenders' lives, but the main story driving the recidivism reduction narrative is that we (nonoffenders) should invest in reentry to make ourselves safer."
- The CONTROL NARRATIVE views ex-prisoners as dangerous creatures who require close supervision at all times.
- The SUPPORT NARRATIVE regards ex-convicts as bundles of deficits with “needs” that must be attended to.
|Source: Steen et al (2012)|
The irony is that, in their hearts, many public officials and practitioners would like to do more for paroling prisoners, but are paralyzed by fear of a public that in reality may be less vengeful than they imagine. As Steen and her colleagues note:
"Commissioners routinely raised the specter of public discomfort with their recommendations, and they always assumed that the public was punitive and would oppose reforms that benefited offenders in any significant way. While the commissioners themselves had complex views of crime and punishment, they almost universally assumed a deeply simplistic view on the part of the public, a view based on retribution to the exclusion of all other considerations. Despite its mandate to continually draw on evidence to support its conclusions, the Commission completely ignored (or was unaware of) recent social scientific evidence of a shift in public opinion about crime and punishment."
Resources:"Many academics equate reentry with rehabilitation, and assume that the popularity of the reentry concept has resulted in discourse and policy that are friendly toward offenders, decreasing the distance between 'us' and 'them'. Our analysis suggests that reentry has not significantly changed the discourse, and we show how practitioners and policy-makers have molded the reentry concept to fit comfortably within the existing punitive discourse by focusing on recidivism reduction rather than reintegration…. In the end, we rather pessimistically conclude that the high hopes of many that reentry could fundamentally change the nature of punishment discourse in the 21st century is to date misplaced."
Related blog posts:
- Book highlights prisoner reentry obstacles: Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration