Re: Rehabilitating Violent Criminals.

Charlie Stross (
Wed, 2 Dec 1998 11:32:16 +0000

On Mon, Nov 30, 1998 at 01:38:49PM -0800, Paul Hughes wrote:
> The fact that today, prisons are:
> 1) Overpopulated with non-violent drug users.
> 2) Admittedly designed by prison architects to disorient criminals.
> 3) And run as a means to punish, rather than rehabilitate.
> I'd say the prisons have absolutely no desire to rehabilitate anyone; and in fact are
> the chief *cause* of crime, not a deterrent. If we spent half the money on education,
> we do now on prisons, this supposed "high crime" rate we see today would be seen as
> the joke that it really is.

An important recent study by the British Home Office concluded that something like 80% of the people in prisons in the UK for non-drug-related crimes had serious learning difficulties -- dyslexia was very common. They conducted a trial of basic literacy classes, and were astonished to discover a two-thirds drop in recidivism among prisoners who they taught to read. Given the cost of keeping people in prison that strikes me as being an extremely cost-effective treatment! While it's obviously not a global panacea, it got enough interest that the Home Office -- who for the past few years have been tending towards the American "lock 'em up and keep 'em in prison" penal pattern -- has begun looking into extended trials of this type.

(A possible mechanism which suggests itself is that today's society is literacy-oriented; if you can't fill out forms at the DSS office you can't get any social security support, if you can't fill out forms you can't get a bank account, if you can't fill out forms you can't get a job. If illiteracy is a major impediment to life in civil society, it is not unreasonable to expect some illiterate people to turn to less formal means of supporting themselves. If this _is_ a major cause of crime, then we can actually do a lot of crime prevention work in primary school, and massively improve the recidivism rate for those people who end up in prison.)

As a side-issue, I seem to recall that South Africa was a television-free zone until comparatively recently -- 1976 springs to mind -- and when TV appeared, the crime rate doubled within a decade. Anyone else recall any figures of this kind? Any association between TV uptake, declines in literacy, and increasing crime rates welcome ...