The prison system is probably not something most of us spend much time thinking about. Whenever the penitentiary system does come up in conversation, it usually relates to negative aspects such as drugs, gangs, mental health issues, and abuse. But a well-functioning rehabilitation system is crucial to the success of any stable society. It stands to reason that the area would be prime for social innovation, and indeed there are many innovative ideas being proposed for prisons around the world.
First up, Puppies Behind Bars.
- This project, started in New York in 1997, is based on the idea that inmates would be well-suited to raise puppies intended for service dog work. These dogs require a high level of human interaction from birth to prepare them for the extensive training they will undergo. Because inmates have so much spare time, they are well-suited for the task. Caring for the puppies has a positive impact on the inmates as well. They feel good being able to help such an important cause, and it helps occupy their time. The project has been a resounding success and a similar initiative is being implemented in a private prison in Japan as well as juvenile detention centers across the U.S.
Next up is The Honor Program, a program that was conceived by inmates at California State Prison-Los Angeles County in 2000.
The project involves inmates taking control of their own rehabilitation. To join the program, inmates must pledge to abstain from drugs, gangs, and violence and must be willing to work with other inmates of any race. In exchange, they are able to participate in vocational, educational, juvenile diversion, life skills and other rehabilitation programs. The program addresses the huge lack of rehabilitation programs being run by the state in Californian prisons. The project has helped reduce the likelihood of repeat offences, and has reduced violence within the prison. This has translated into a savings of approximately $200 000 for California taxpayers in violence mitigation costs. Unfortunately, budget cuts has forced the closing of many prisons in California and the program has all but disappeared despite best efforts and the ease with which it could be implemented in other facilities. Visit http://www.prisonhonorprogram.org/ to find out how you can help!
Last, in a controversial move in the early 1990s, Mexico City legislated that if a child is born while the mother is incarcerated, that child will remain with its mother in prison until it reaches the age of 6 rather than be turned over to foster parents or other relatives.
- The law is based on the idea that it is better for children in the long run to remain with their mothers. The presence of the children has resulted in reduced violence in the women’s prisons. The children are allowed to leave on weekends and holidays to visit other relatives but otherwise attend school in the prison and reside with their mothers in a cell. Debate continues among academics over whether spending one’s youth in jail causes problems later in life, but for now, the legislation stands. Share your thoughts about the issue here.
While prison reform is by no means complete, it is great to know that there are some initiatives to ameliorate the situation. What do you think about these ideas?
Fringe Projects is a new blog series we are starting at I4P. Check in every other Thursday to learn about some controversial, inspiring or wildly imaginative projects from around the world!