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What Is Prison For?

April 10, 2016

Last week 60 Minutes had a segment on Germany’s prisons.  Punishment is not the goal, but instead creating conditions where the person can again be integrated into society is the goal.

Today a story in The New York Times about the way Saudi Arabia is attempting to deal with jihadists struck me as extremely hopeful.  One will need to see some serious intel on how this works over the years before thinking this is the path to any security from those who have proven to be internally flawed.

The house is designed to give jihadists who behave well a respite from inmate life and help them reconnect with their wives and children, and perhaps even conceive new ones.

That positive reinforcement is emblematic of the Saudi approach to its homegrown jihadists, which would not translate well to the West. Those who have done their misdeeds abroad and have not participated in attacks at home are generally regarded as misled Saudi sons who need to have their thinking corrected so they can return to society as good, obedient subjects.

All inmates get certain benefits, Abu Nawaf said, like a monthly stipend equivalent to $400 for incidentals and the possibility of “temporary release” for family functions. An inmate heading to a relative’s wedding, for example, gets $2,666 so he can give a gift.

Large rooms with couches and tables are provided for family visits, and inmates who are not considered dangerous also receive “special visits” from their spouses in small rooms with pink walls, pink beds, a minibar (no alcohol, of course) and a bathroom.

“Those with four wives get one visit each week,” Abu Nawaf said.

In America I would settle for reduced sentencing for some in exchange for a tough education policy where upon graduation and a clean record during incarceration a plan would be devised for early release.  There is no doubt too many people fill our prisons at a cost that is simply unstainable.  A smart path forward needs to be developed.  But that is not to say Germany should be emulated.

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