The U.S. prison system focuses on dehumanization rather than rehabilitation.
Prisoners, held captive in cells, relate to others through a property/owner dynamic; they are viewed as objects that perform free or incredibly cheap labor for the state and companies to make profit. Prisoners are wildly isolated from their labor, as they produce objects worth more than the labor they exert in production, are paid little to none, and are not creating products for themselves.
As the prison system disproportionately affects those with low socioeconomic status, many inmates are likely to have not had healthcare prior to incarceration. Overcrowding, dirtiness, and lack of nutrition and fresh air in combination with the lack of healthcare in prisons both leads to and perpetuates extreme health issues among prisoners, which also prevents prisoners from leading healthy lives upon release and leads to prisoner deaths. Mental health issues remain unattended to alongside physical health issues. Officials fail to protect prisoners from violence.
Incarceration of a family member can obliterate family structures, and mass incarceration can obliterate a community; this problem is furthered by restricted opportunities for visiting prisoners. Additionally, upon release, many incarcerated persons are unable to find a source of income and a place to stay, and this places a greater strain on both the person and their loved ones.
These are only a few of the issues with the U.S. prison system. Slavery was never abolished —only reformed—and prisons reproduce the same motives to exploit labor and capture “undesirable” people.
My society would serve as a strikingly different alternative to prison. It would be founded on the concepts that society members are human, valuable and meaningful to the community and the community that exists outside of my utopia. Community members would no longer be viewed as disposable and as property used to generate profit. Keeping these concepts in mind would obliterate the property/owner dynamic that existing prisons thrive on. Members would participate only in labor that is necessary for their daily functioning and the functioning of the society, such as cooking and upkeep of personal spaces. There would no longer be relationships on the basis of production and labor.
A majority of member energy would be invested in learning and rehabilitation. Members would have access to all the learning opportunities and resources to reform and learn how to better their functioning in society upon release. Staff would exist not as authoritative, punishing figures but as doctors, teachers, and therapists who are passionate about the rehabilitation of community members. Members would have an understanding of their wrongdoings and feel dedicated to the functioning of the society and the bettering of themselves and others; thus, authoritative and punishing figures would not be necessary, and members could hold each other accountable instead. Therapists could be utilized as conflict mediators in complex situations, and certain members could willingly be separated and have their daily life reorganized if discomforts arise at any moment.
Members would be viewed as people who would one day re-enter the outside society. Thus, the physical and mental well-being of members would be viewed as a priority and healthcare would be facilitated accordingly. Staff would strive to identify and treat the root of mental health issues within the community. Living conditions would be improved with spaciousness, cleanliness, proper nutrition, access to exercise, and access to lots of natural light and fresh air. Members would have their own personal and comfortable sleeping and bathing spaces, but they would not be confined to these spaces. As prison uniforms are worn involuntarily, are dehumanizing, destroy individuality, and are stigmatized, community members would be allowed to dress as they desire. Community members would be free to practice the religion of their choice if desired, and they would be equipped with the facilities to do so. Education on sex, protection, and consent would be facilitated so that community members could safely practice sex as long as it does not interfere with their rehabilitation process.
A focus would be placed on integration into society following rehabilitation; members would have opportunities to learn trades and receive an education. As the focus and reputation of the society is rehabilitation rather than punishment, and due to the aforementioned opportunities, members would likely have increased chances at employment upon release. In order to reduce the strain on a community member’s family lacking a member, family members would be allowed regular and unrestricted phone calls and visits. In order to accommodate family schedules and prevent overbooking and overworking of staff, community members would not all follow the same schedule. By making meal times occur at different times, in smaller groups, the cooking and cleaning associated with meals and taken on by community members would be less intensive. Community members would work in rotating groups to cook and maintain communal spaces.
To prevent too much monotony in daily life, activity structures could alternate every other or every few days. Daily life for community members would be primarily focused on rehabilitation, with therapy, restorative justice activities, and educative processes comprising a large chunk of the day. The learning of trades or education outside of rehabilitative education would make up the second largest time slot. Three meals would be served each day, also providing a break time between rehabilitative sessions, and set-up/clean up time would surround each meal. A certain amount of free time during the day would be allotted to leisurely activities and/or exercise. Family/friend visitation or communication would be allowed at a time that is most convenient for a member’s loved ones.