NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Unrehabilitated, Waves of Inmates Emerge From Prisons

December 12, 2002

Of the record 630,000 felons projected to be released from state prisons this year, thousands have done their time in strict isolation with no attempt being made to rehabilitate them and prepare them for life on the outside.

Criminologists suspect that this category of prison "graduates" may be partly responsible for last year's increase in major crimes nationwide, the first such rise in nearly a decade.

  • Many of them are killers, rapists and drug dealers -- and authorities hold little hope that many of them will shake a life of crime when they return to society.
  • They are products of new "super maximum" security prisons, which are the showpieces of the prison building boom of the 1990s -- where they were kept isolated in small cells for as many as 23 hours a day.
  • States do not keep uniform statistics on such inmates -- but Texas has 9,000 inmates in isolation, the most in the nation, and it says it released 1,321 in 2001.
  • A recent survey of 34 states and the District of Columbia by the Criminal Justice Institute found that the percentage of isolated prisoners in those jurisdictions rose from an average of 4.5% in 1994 to 6.5% last year.

In prison, the inmates had no one to talk to, little or no television, no windows, restricted visitation with family members and little help with what analysts call the physical and psychological atrophy that can result from such conditions.

Law enforcement and prison officials agree that the proportion of formerly isolated inmates who are likely to be arrested within three years of their release easily surpasses the 62 percent recidivism rate for all felons.

Source: Kevin Johnson, "From Extreme Isolation, Waves of Felons Are Freed," USA Today, December 12, 2002.

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