Monday, March 24, 2014

Learning In Prison

My beloved mother did many things of value during her life.

At one point she was teaching theology correspondence courses. And one of her students was in prison "At Her Majesty's Pleasure" - the British euphemism for a life sentence. I was never quite clear on what he did other than being involved with the mob, but I am fairly sure it did involve killing people. He'd actually rethought his life in prison and was learning theology.

Through this she became aware of a program to teach minor offenders to read. These were illiterate adults who were in prison on short sentences for such things as petty theft, marijuana possession, etc. By teaching them to read it was hoped they would have a better chance of finding honest work when they got out. She taught these men for several years, stopping only when a flurry of prison riots spread across the country. Her extreme claustrophobia was set off by the riot drills and she realized she would be a liability if something like that happened. But the program presumably continued.

Now?

The British prison system has banned prisoners from receiving books from their families. Including juveniles. Prison libraries are often good, but also often the first victims of cuts when money is tight.

Without books, the next John won't pick up a Bible and realize it's a better weapon than a pistol or knife (I'm not Christian, but if religion helps you get your head straight it doesn't, to me, matter WHICH religion).

Without books, teaching prisoners to read is a waste of time. And some of these are juveniles. Messed up kids. Who are in their cells for 16-20 hours a day. We should be sending truckloads of books into these prisons - books to help them learn, to help them see other paths than the ones they have. In the United States we have programs to send prisoners books. In the United Kingdom, any such programs would have been shut down under these rules unless, I suppose, through the auspices of the prison library.

If we have to put people in prison...especially kids, especially people serving sentences for crimes they clearly committed out of poverty and desperation...don't we have a responsibility to help them become better people? And isn't it cheaper to make sure they leave with some chance of a job than watch them come right back through the revolving door? But, according to these people, it's more important to be "tough on crime."

Yeah, kind of disgusted with my birth country right now.