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Recommendations for Prison Reform

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1. Victim/Offender Education

Working out their problems with the people they harmed gives perpetrators a greater sense of responsibility and a greater awareness about the consequences of their actions, and it gives victims a greater sense of resolution over what happened.

2. Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana meditation has lead to life changing experiences for people incarcerated, making them more aware of the effects of their actions through quiet reflection. I saw a video about the use of Vipassana meditation in prisons in India, in which the incarcerated, after completing the program, left crying and hugging the guards--claiming to see their relationship to society with a new clarity.

(The film is Doing Time, Doing Vipassana, a 1997 documentary by Eilona Ariel and Ayelet Menahemi.)

3. Playback Theatre

Having inmates write scripts from the point of view of their victims and watching these stories performed by actors--when guided by a trained facilitator--can also lead to an increase in understanding on the part of the inmates concerning how they've been relating to other people.

4. Brain Scans

In the book Change Your Brain, Change your Life, Dr. Daniel G. Amen relates a story about his godson and nephew, Andrew. He had always been a happy and active child, but then all of a sudden his personality changed. He became depressed and started having angry outburst. He began complaining about homicidal and suicidal thoughts. All of his collegues told Dr. Amen that this was psychological and had nothing to do with physiology, but he ordered brain scans anyway. A SPECT and MRI scan together revealed that Andrew had a cyst on his left temporal lobe. After much struggle, Dr. Amen was finally able to find a surgeon who was willing to remove the cyst. Andrew's condition improved immediately, and his personality returned to what it had been before he started feeling angry and depressed. So the question is this: how many violent criminals are

(This story was related on pages 10-13 of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Daniel G. Amen, M.D.)

5. Voice

In his book Discipline and Punish Foucault discusses the process by which the prison became the ideal form of punishment in western society and the way this relates to the development of a larger "carceral system"- that imprisons us all.

This turns upon panopticism""that there is a constant possibility of being watched and judged. "Unequal gaze"- allows for the production of "docile bodies."- How do we escape this?

One way to begin breaking down the panopticon is by using objectification as a source of power. I learned about this in African American philosophy. Whereas European cultures sought dominance over other cultures by asserting a mind/body dichotomy in which they defined themselves as representing mind/subject and others as being body/object, rap intentionally turns this power distinction on its head. "You see me, therefore I am powerful. You hear me, therefore I am powerful."-

(The particular article that discusses this is "Rap Music and the Uses of Stereotype" by Crispin Sartwell, featured in the anthology Reflections: An Anthology of African American Philosophy edited by James A. Montmarquet and William H. Hardy.)

(A similar trend seems to be in play with "Girls Gone Wild,"- by the way. These are not girls selling themselves as strippers or prostitutes. This is something different. These are exhibitionists--they are getting nude for free. They want to be seen. Which means what? That the power is theirs. "You see me, therefore I am powerful."-)

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Ben Dench graduated valedictorian of his class from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in the Spring Semester of 2007 with a B.A. in philosophy (his graduation speech, which received high praise, is available on YouTube). He is currently (more...)
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