When I arrived in 1980, the California Department of Corrections was at the forefront of well-managed and successful prison systems. A wide range of rehabilitative programs awaited the motivated prisoner, from college education to vocational training and drug counseling. Overnight visits were available to all prisoners, and regular visiting was relatively welcoming and family-friendly. Prisoners enjoyed statutorily enforced rights that bound the conduct of prison officials.
Most important, the recidivism rate, the measure of failure for released prisoners, was much, much lower -- around 25% compared to over 70% now.
Twenty-five years of caving in to the unreasonable and self-serving demands of guards' unions, serving as a mute whipping post for demagogic politicians, and forever kowtowing to an angry, vocal minority of crime victims' demands for barely disguised revenge, has driven the justice out of the prison systems.
It's well past time to abandon the bankrupt ideas of the punishment-for-the-sake-of-inflicting-pain crowd before they drive justice out of the rest of society too.