Here's a question to the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world: how do we turn tax-consuming inmates into tax paying, law-abiding citizens? Traditional prison rehabilitation programs don't seem to work; in fact, our recidivism rate is grim with 67% prisoners rearrested within 3 years of being released.
Even after ex-convicts have served their time, they are fighting the system to find employment. Without a stable job, it becomes easier to turn back to a life of crime. But in this $60 billion/year prison industry, there are a few creative programs that are trying to solve a deeper problem. Here are five unique prison programs, aiming at changing the lives of some of the 7.2 million prisoners:
Puppies. In Kansas, homeless dogs are matched with violent offenders to help them "rediscover their humanity". Puppies Behind Bars trains inmates to raise puppies to become service dogs for the disabled and explosive detection canines for enforcement.
Entrepreneurship. This non-profit teaches "MBA-level" classes to prisoners, especially drug-dealers and gang leaders who have shown some entrepreneurial tendencies in their past. They aim at leveraging this proven skill-set to inspire a deeper change and give prisoners a sense of purpose and leadership.
Theater. Studies have shown that the use of dramatic techniques leads to significant improvements in the cognitive behavior of the program's participants inside prison and a reduction in recidivism once paroled.
Arts. Being able to express their emotions through art or writing gives inmates hope for the future, as well as some release from frustration, lack of self worth and hopelessness.
Yoga. The rehabilitative benefits of yoga and other mindfulness practices can help prisoners deal with stress, anxiety, and depression. Maintaining a long-term practice can actually change ones' outlook on life and behavior.
Our prison system seems to perpetuate its population, instead of diminish it. While short-term costs of these unusual programs may be high; if they prove to be successful in reducing recidivism rates, they would be cost-effective in the long run.
Catherine Rohr, who gave up a six figure job on Wall Street to run the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) says it best:
The real success comes from turning a tax consumer into a tax payer, a deadbeat dad into a supportive father, a societal terrorist into a community contributor, an influence of evil into a positive role model, a waste of talent into a man of realized potential. You can't argue with those results.