A powerful documentary chronicling prison rehabilitation is currently screening at film festivals across the nation. The Work makes a compelling case for implementing similar programs in order to reduce both prison violence and recidivism rates, ultimately assisting former convicts in becoming productive members of their community.
Inside Circle Foundation's mission is to help former convicts live up to their full potential.
The film follows four law-abiding men who participate in a group therapy program at Folsom State Prison, near Sacramento, California. During the four-day intensive program, the men face their inner demons while getting a firsthand look at how the nation’s most violent criminals seek redemption.
The group therapy program is run by the Inside Circle Foundation. Their mission is to help convicts live up to “their full potential as human beings.” During the periodic therapy sessions, convicts deal with the emotional toll their actions have caused.
Robert Allbee, a former convict, created the program to help those in similar situations “heal and achieve meaningful lives.” The foundation also provides a weekly support group that promotes emotional literacy and behavioral change.
America’s Prison Problem
Since it was founded in 1999, the foundation has been successful at impacting the culture and environment at Folsom State Prison.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The latest data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that, as of 2015, there are more than two million Americans behind bars.
It is up to the American people to demand reform from inside prison itself.
This statistic looks even more grim when it is realized that, even though the United States has less than five percent of the world’s population, it has around 25 percent of the world’s total incarcerated population.
The Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to criminal justice reform, backs up these severe claims as well. In fact, according to the organization, the U.S. prison population has tripled since the 1980s.
Moreover, the recidivism rate is abysmal. Within three years of release, 67.8 percent of ex-convicts are rearrested, according to National Institute for Justice. That number jumps to 76.6 percent within five years of release.
The current criminal justice system, which focuses on punishment rather than rehabilitation, is a complete failure. When the incarcerated are not taught how rejoin society, they often fall back to their old ways. Their record also limits their opportunity to find meaningful jobs. Therefore, they go back to slinging drugs or stealing to survive.
Rehabilitation is Key
That is why the current criminal justice system is a failure. It traps people in a vicious cycle of poverty and crime. The problem is exacerbated if the inmates have families of their own. That cycle persists through generations, increasingly complicating the lives of the individuals who try to break free.
Rehabilitation programs reduce prison violence and recidivism rates.
Even though criminal justice reform has reached the national discourse, it seems that most politicians still want to seem tough on crime. During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump strived for the strong man image by pushing “tough on crime” talking points.
Now that he is in power, his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, wants to return to the failed policies of the 1990s. For example, Sessions is a proponent of mandatory minimums and enacting harsher drug penalties, even advocating for the punishment of marijuana use in states where it is legal.
To make matters worse, in conjunction with private prisons, police and prison guard unions that lobby for harsher penalties, actual legislative reform seems distant and sometimes impossible.
However, there is a glimmer of hope. Nonprofits have made strides in this realm. In fact, criminal justice reform is a policy area that the Charles Koch institute focuses on. The institute provides financial support to organizations with the same goal. With that said, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.
Even though legislative reform seems distant, it is up to the American people to demand reform from inside prison itself, and The Work provides an example of what that entails.
As the documentary indicates, rehabilitation programs reduce prison violence and recidivism rates by teaching convicts to collaborate and set their differences aside.
“The gang and racial affiliations that otherwise define much of life behind bars are left at the chapel door by the participating prisoners,” Sheri Linden of The Hollywood Reporter said in her review of the documentary. “Their willingness to put aside tribal divisions speaks volumes about the hierarchy of the yard and the rules of survival. Not only do a former Aryan Brother, a onetime Crip, an ex-Blood and a member of the prison-system-wide Native American Brotherhood sit together, but they listen to each other.”
If Americans want to stop the prison-industrial complex from profiting off the imprisonment of fellow citizens, then they should watch The Work to understand how beneficial rehabilitation can be.