Yes, but. There are two questions here: 1) What kind of prisoners?, and 2) What kind of prisons? Serious effort should be made to rehabilitate inmates convicted for lesser crimes. Even twice, if convicted a second time. A third time only, if the court can be convinced there is still a chance of success. These would be exceptional cases. In general, free citizens only get two chances. At the third strike, you are out. This means you cannot return to society. Your freedom will in principle for ever be restricted.
There is no point in rehabilitating prisoners convicted for violent crimes such as murder, or assault causing grievous bodily harm, because they should never again be released into society. The reason for taking away people’s freedom is not to cause them harm, nor to take revenge, but to protect the citizenry. Therefore, a murderer should not be given a second chance in society. He should be detained for life, unless and until at an old age he can reasonably be deemed not to form any threat to society any longer. These inmates should only be given instruction and help to cope with life in an institution.
Rehabilitation is useful to try and correct people who have committed minor crimes, such as theft, destruction of property or simple assault (as when somebody unable to control his anger hits somebody else during a row or dispute without causing major bodily harm). For these a correctional institute can be a ‘house of healing’. Duration of the detention depends on the time required for the individualized rehabilitation program. Part of such rehabilitation should be to do normally paid work, organized by the institution, to repay at least some of the damage done to the victim. Once the rehabilitation program has been completed, the inmate is released and given a second (even a third) chance in society.
What kind of prisons?
More crucial is the question what kind of prisons we should have? When we call a prison a ‘house of healing’ (a term used by the Lionheart Foundation), a completely different kind of institution comes to mind than a prison. However, healing houses are not run as psychiatric hospitals, although in a sense the inmates do receive ‘treatment’. They are correctional institutions, in which the inmates have no normal freedom of movement (in the sense that they can’t leave the institution without permission and without a guide). But they are otherwise not ‘punished’ and given as much freedom as their treatment and behavior warrants. They are given an opportunity to work during normal working hours and earn a normal minimum wage. Part of their wages is used to compensate their victims
The work can be done inside or outside the institution depending on the situation, the kind of crime committed and the inmate’s record of behavior. The regime can be quite free, although clearly structured (strict hours of waking, eating and sleeping etc.). During evening hours and weekends motivational courses and opportunities for study and training are provided. Discipline is taught in a practical way. After you have seen our daily video, you will understand that there are many ways of doing this. We believe that martial arts combined with yoga would probably prove to be the most practical way.
The regime for inmates convicted for violent crimes obviously has to be more controlled. Nevertheless, they too are only detained to protect society, so in principle their detention should only serve that purpose and no more than that. So here, too, there can be quite a lot of freedom, unless their behavior calls for stricter measures.
We have personally seen inmates convicted for murder working in the prison workshop with sharp and dangerous tools, but not assaulting anybody. Much more is possible than the outside world thinks, but there are exceptions. These are usually the real psychopaths, who often need treatment of a completely different kind (namely psychiatric treatment). If psychiatric treatment is required, it should be provided. This does not mean, however, that these patients can - after treatment - be released into society. The risk is too great.
So we can conclude that correctional institutions can be much more humane and free without posing any real threat to society. The prison regimes and the way they are run should be radically changed. They should be made so livable that society is not committing a crime against the inmates by treating them like animals in a cage. This is even more necessary, because many inmates will never again regain their full freedom in society. Where they stay and live should therefore be a place where a human being can spend a lifetime without losing his humanity. This means that work for normal pay should be provided, there should be as much freedom as the situation warrants and inmates should have (private) living quarters in which humans can live as humans.
We are often asked why we believe convicts should not be ‘punished’, not even for the most heinous of crimes. The answer is simple. You cannot bring to life a murdered loved one by punishing the murderer. But you can prevent him from ever murdering again. In dealing with crime, society should not commit the same kind of crimes against convicts as they were convicted for. You cannot fight crime with more crime. That is why we are opposed to capital punishment. The execution does not bring the victim back to life and is in reality nothing else but cold-blooded murder itself, precisely what the executed had been convicted for! This is criminal madness, perpetrated by the state.
In the same vein: You cannot fight terrorism with more terrorism. Something for George Bush to ponder.