It should come as no surprise that there is nearly nothing (if nothing) more frightening than finding out you are going to prison. No matter the inmate, no matter the circumstances, there is nearly always (if not without fail) a moment in time during the process of incarceration where fear strikes them in the heart. First time inmates are often struck with the sense of loss and change at once, making it incredibly difficult for them to integrate seamlessly into life in prison. Similarly, when those same inmates are released (if they are lucky enough to be released, that is), there is an innate sense of shock. There is generally always discussion around the security of those around them before, during, and after their incarceration, but what is not discussed nearly as openly is the security of the inmates themselves. There are many forms of security for inmates that should be up for discussion and assessment, from the physical security during and after their sentence, to the financial security after they are released.
The prison system in the US is not without its flaws. While the US prison system is among the best in the world, there are specific elements of the entire process that could be strengthened to be more stable and secure. Standard procedures like the criminal background check are very easily accessed and controlled these days, but there are other, more serious aspects of the prison system that could do with some work. Because the topic of inmate security is so soft spoken and taboo, it is difficult for some to definitively sit on either side of the argument. On the one hand, there are those who believe that the prison system is the way it is for a reason, and it should not be changed because the security of inmates does and should remain second to the security of those around them that are law-abiding citizens. On the other hand, there are members of the community who believe that the legal system can and should be changed to provide a more secure existence for inmates during and after their sentences.
Once inmates are released and free to begin their new lives post-prison sentence, the issue of financial security arises, as well as a newfound sense of free physical security. Prisoners are used to physical and financial security issues for the most part – the prison system has made many of them patient – but what is new is the sense of innate freedom that is laced in with their sense of security on multiple levels. The US operates on a startling foundation of what is known as the “offender funded” approach. Simply put, inmates are charged upon their release for the cost of their own incarceration. This is an insult to their future financial security for one very simple reason: many inmates work to earn their place back in society by taking on jobs during their incarceration. In this way, they work off their debt to society already. Unfortunately, there is currently no way for inmates to pay off their bill ahead of the due date of their future release (if they have one) – no matter how hard they work.
The US prison system is renowned for its complete lack of transparency. The reality is that it is near impossible to definitively know, from the outside, just how difficult the entire experience can be for inmates. The US has been increasingly trying to bring down the aging prison population, but the various issues that must be accounted for in signing off on releases demand to be heard. Some inmates have active drug dependencies or offences, which make release more of a risk than it perhaps is for other inmates who do not suffer from such drawbacks. For these inmates who have struggled with narcotic dependencies in the past, their security blanket of support that they received in prison is ripped out from under them. Once they have served their sentence, they are no longer the responsibility of the prison system, and thus any care they were given during their sentence is ended the moment they walk out of the prison gates. Essentially, they are “free” with a deep financial fee and a whole lot of hard work ahead.
So often there is open discussion and debate around the security of people around prison inmates. What is not discussed nearly as often is the security of the inmates themselves. The prison system in the US is strict and sometimes even confusing, so it should come as no surprise that prison inmates are often subjected to various breaches in their own personal security. From physical security to financial security, prison inmates deal with it all – often daily. And it does not end when their sentence does, either. It is difficult to know where to sit on the argument, as there are sound points on either side. Often, what this leads to is people that quietly sit on the fence, unable or unwilling to make their voice and their opinion heard.