If I was in charge of the U.S. prison system

Okay, here’s the idea, laugh if you want…

The sentencing judge in a criminal case could require a person to be incarcerated until they have attained an assigned degree of education.

For example, a high school dropout who steals a car could be required to be incarcerated until he receives a bachelor’s degree from a local college. He’d be taken to prison and given any materials he needs to accomplish this goal. Representatives from the local college would meet with him periodically to give him the necessary assignments and grade his progress and, finally, give him his diploma.

The additional costs would be paid by the taxpayers (okay, it gets sticky here), but the payoff would be an educated member of the society who would have something to contribute to it instead of another surly ex-con who would be shunned by this same society.
Extreme cases, sociopaths who blow up buildings for example, could be required to obtain a PhD (or two) in areas of study assigned by the judge. This would probably amount to a life sentence but perhaps not. In any case the inmate would most likely spend his time behind bars studying and trying to improve himself instead of simply rotting away with no hope of true rehabilitation.

What do the doper millions think of this? Maybe it belongs in MPSIMS, I dunno…

A lot of prisons offer some form of higher education, but there are a few problems with your proposal. First, educating someone doesn’t make them not-bad. True, many criminals resort to crime because they do not have a marketable skill, but many others turn to crime because they’re assholes. Also, what about people who are simply unable to function in society? What about crazy people? What about people who are just too stupid to learn enough for a degree? I suppose we could keep those folks in prison indefinately, but that would be stupidnessism.

Also, what about educated people who commit crimes? Not all violent criminals are thugs.

What would society gain by training someone who really doesn’t have any skills other than blowing up buildings to be a Latin scholar? Is he actually going to find employment in that field, even if, for some reason, he wants to? Is he going to learn not to blow up buildings? As I see it, this plan is bad from society’s point of view due to circumventing the free market process in setting the number of people pursuing higher education. It’s bad for honest people who pursue college degrees on their own in subjects they enjoy, due to added competition in the job market (by people willing to work for less, and without college loans). It’s bad for the criminals themselves, because their future role in society is determined by someone else, and the severity of the punishment is more a factor of their aptness at school than their crime.

Also, I think differential equations is probably prohibited by the Eighth Ammendment. There are several other problems, such as security concerns for the small army of professors required, and the overall cost. But I think I’ll leave off here.

Actually I don’t think your plan is bad at all. Lately there has been a wealth of expose’ type shows profiling prison life on A & E, Discovery, The Learning Channel and MSNBC. Several of them have focused on the success of work/study programs in prison. Some have profiled businesses in prison that employ inmates. There were some pretty good figures given for recidivism rates compared to inmates that did not participate in these programs. Problem is that these programs are not prevasive or widespread. Even when they are successful they are often overlooked and not expanded upon. And I think the general attitude of society and the political climate we are in right now makes implementation of programs such as this a low priority. I honestly think that much of our citizenry feels like we should either fry these people or lock them up and throw away the key. They are not in the least bit interested in reintroducing anyone back into society. The quality of mercy in our culture is at an all time low.


While I agree with your general statement that educational opportunities are a good idea, I don’t think your example shows that mandatory education would necessarily help.

The inmates who currently participate in these education programs are more likely to be the ones who realize that they need to turn their lives around. They are a self-selecting population of motivated individuals.

Mandatory education would force the future recidivists to sit through classes and not learn anything. That would, in turn, reduce the effectiveness of the program for those who really want to learn. Finally, trying to force a sociopath to get a Ph.D. seems a bit bizarre. Only a relatively small percentage of the population is smart enough to get a Ph.D. (except in education, maybe). A lot of criminals are criminals in part because they lack the ability to defer gratification. Deferred gratification is an important trait to have when slogging through a Ph.D. (or undergraduate) program.

Well I didn’t address that point exactly, the Phd thingy. But I do believe that work and study programs are a good idea for a large number of offenders. As for sociopaths…which sociopaths are we talking about? Several of the more famous ones like Bundy for instance certainly had the the mental capacity to absorb the necessary material to recieve a degree. But your everyday run of the mill gang banger sociopath might be a little challenged in that area. They might benefit more by simply learning a good trade.

You are also right these programs are geared toward the more motivated individual, but prison life in general does not promote this kind of motivation. Every program I have seen shows inmates discussing the adjustments they must make in order just to survive in a hostile environment. Some I’m sure are much more adept at this having come from more hostile environments in the first place. Why wouldn’t mandatory education programs help? I do not see how they could make the situation in prison or the incidence of repeat offenses any worse.


Are there restrictions as to what I can study? If I get sent to prison for my failed attempt at building an a-bomb, can I go to whatever classes will help me build it right next time?

I’m a little concerned that we might send an ordinary coyote to prison, and five or ten years later we’ll release Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius.

If I was in charge of the U.S. prison system…
the women’s prisons would be a lot more like the one’s in late night Cinemax movies and less like the ones on Sixty Minutes. :smiley:

Seriously, though, my big change would have to do with non-violent offenders. If we HAVE to lock up people for drug possession, then for goodness sake, let’s not lock them up with murders, rapists and such. Lock them up in a different prison with real access to drug treatment.

If you screw up in the “non-violent” prison, then you can get shipped to danger central.

But will it make it any better? This kind of a program wouldn’t happen in a vacuum. If the decision was made to make all inmates complete a degree, the large amounts of money this would take would have to come from somewhere. I don’t think it’s a good idea to divert resources from one area just to fund something that “can’t hurt”. Again, I agree that giving inmates the opportunity to learn is a good idea. But the prison population tends to lack a lot of the characteristics it takes to make good use of opportunities.

The Ph.D. issue was addressing the OP, not you Needs2Know. I think that is the clearest case of a non-starter for reasons already discussed.

Why would we reward people for such crimes? It doesn’t make sense to give a mad bomber a Phd. Also, since you can get a college education for doing a crime in your system, imagine the # ppl who commit crimes just to get educated.

Hmmm…So we’ll have
-more 1-time criminals (probably from lower classes)
-a more educated society

Not bad, but I just can’t grasp the concept of rewarding mass murders and such. The most I’d give any criminal was a HS diploma.

Please tell me I am understanding this wrong! Surely you don’t really believe that your “run of the mill gang banger” (which is usually a code word for criminal who is not white)is too stupid to learn? Let’s give the white serial killers PHDs and teach those Mexican gang bangers something useful, like how to fix our cars! They aren’t fit for anything else!

Which brings us to my primary problem with your plan. While I agree that we should encourage our inmates to learn and to better themselves (and create an environment where they can do so), I think that the effort would be spent better on education in the first place. I think that our schools need to prepare everyone for the possibility of higher education and that higher education should be obtainable by all. Perhaps if a decent education was no longer the realm of those with cash, we’d see a drop in crime. Perhaps if we educated people in the first place, the wouldn’t turn to crime.

Loading gun…

Somebody point me at a fundie :smiley:

Masters degree here i come.
On a slightly more serious note, many criminals might be more successful in their studies than you think. Its not like they have much else to do. Heck some of these guys write their own appeals, 20-30 papers a year should be a snap.

I do admit though that the idea of a hacker pursing a more advanced comp sci degree would scare me.

*Originally posted by waterj2 *
**What would society gain by training someone who really doesn’t have any skills other than blowing up buildings to be a Latin scholar?

Wouldn’t that make a hell of a resume!

My PhD/sociopath idea was pretty much off of the top of my head. I guess my basic idea is to make the prison experience somehow constructive instead of purely punitive. In other words, you go to prison until you figure out how to be an asset to society instead of a detriment. The more detrimental your behavior, the more of an asset you have to be to society in order to get out.

There are truly insane and, perhaps, unrehabilitateable(sp?) people wandering around who would be very difficult to educate. But these people certainly aren’t helped by simply being locked away in a hostile, anti-social environment for a few years and then being put back out on the streets. There are bugs in any system.

Plus I enjoy imagining the following conversation between two inmates:

“What are you in for?”
“Masters in organic chemistry.”
“Ooh, that’s rough, man. I’m in for a bachelors in 17th century French literature.”
“Well, back to the books…”

…sorry for all the boldface in the previous post, I’m still figuring out how to work the quotes. I’ll stop by the county jail tomorrow.

Not exactly suggesting that a non-white would not benefit or even be able to obtain a PHd. Don’t bother putting words in my mouth. Bundy after all was a college graduate in the first place. Mearly suggesting that the environment that creates these sociopathic tendencies is also not an environment that gives these people the basic heads-up they need for higher learning. If I must spell it out for you.

I personally believe that one very good way to solve recidivism is to treat and educate. Drug addicted inmates should be treated for their addiction. These people will never be able to lead productive lives outside of prison if they never recieve the skills to do so.

Besides, mandatory does not have to entail blanket mandatory requirements. Things like this can be determined on a case by case basis as susggested in the OP


If I were in charge of the U.S. prison system…

One word “WEDLOCK”

nuff said.

If we followed the OP then an evil genius (e.g. Lex Luther, Professor Moriarty and Hannibal Lecter) would be out in a week whereas someone with learning difficulties may do life for jay-walking.


If I were in charge of the US prison system, I would not make obtaining a college degree mandatory for anyone. Why fill the classes with people who don’t want to learn? It only makes it more difficult for those who do want to learn. But I would offer incentives for sucessful completion of cources. Extra privledges, time off one’s sentence, whatever.

I would make educational oportunities available for all prisoners. Everything from literacy classes to grad school should be available for those who want to get more education, and who are academically qualified for the level of study for which they apply. The majority of prisoners are not well educated. There would be a lot more in the basic literacy classes and the GED classes then in anything more advanced.

I would also put a good library in every prison, with plenty of books on a wide varity of topics. I’d make provision for prisoners to request that the library purchase specific books and books on specific topics of interest. No porn, but no other restrictions. I’d make acess to this library easily available (but I’d be quick to eject anyone who created a disturbance), and I’d let prisoners withdraw books.

I’d also make available plenty of self-improvment oprotunities, such as a variety of 12-step programs: for drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling, violence, etc.

“WEDLOCK” is a movie staring Rutger Hauer.

The basic premis is that you have two collars.
Each collar has a transcevier on an identical frequency and a small explosive in it.
If the collars got to far apart, the explosive would detinate – taking both peoples heads off.
The Ironic part is - no one knows who is wearing the corresponding collar.

Definately a movie worth checking out.