Re: Some prison statistics

Charlie Stross (
Wed, 16 Jun 1999 17:19:51 +0100

On Tue, Jun 15, 1999 at 07:34:50PM -0500, Chuck Kuecker wrote:
> A real solution would be MUCH more internal surveillance in prisons. Any
> inmate found using force of any kind could be segregated from the rest of
> the population.
> Prisons here are simply warehouses for criminals. There is no attempt at
> rehabilitation; in fact, recently many opportunities have been removed as
> the 'get tough' crowd gains power.

A relatively recent (last six months) study here in the UK gathered some interest, and declarations that further research would be funded, from the Home OFfice. Turns out that some bright spark had discovered that something like 60% of prisoners in English prisons were functionally illiterate, and conducted a trial of the effect of remedial literacy classes on re-offense; they found that it was possible to achieve a remarkable drop in the recidivism rate by providing simple writing and 'rithmetic classes. The hypothesis they advanced was that illiterate people in this textually-oriented society are at a major disadvantage when it comes to doing just about anyything -- from earning a living to making use of welfare state benefits. Teaching inmates to read and do simple sums equipped them to survive on the outside without breaking the law.

It seems to me that if this can be substantiated, it would be a very cheap tool for reducing the long-term crime rate (by enabling exprisoners to re-integrate with society more easily).

I'm a bit more pessimistic, however, about the idea of teaching useful vocational skills in a prison environment; we're moving out of the industrial mass-production era, and unskilled or semi-skilled labour just isn't in that much demand. Teaching a con how to work a drill press or lathe isn't really going to help them get a job as a waiter or a taxi driver ...