A More Compassionate Corrections System

At these jails, punishment is passé. Respect rules.


| July-August 2000


America's burgeoning prison-industrial complex has been built on a foundation of vengeance and punishment, but at two San Francisco county jails, innovative rehabilitation programs may be leading the way to a more compassionate—and successful—corrections system.

As Jeffrey Benner reports in Mojowire (March 16, 2000), the "clients" in County Jails No. 7 and No. 8 live in open dormitories and spend up to 12 hours a day in various treatment, counseling, training, and education programs, including yoga, meditation, drama therapy, and computer classes. "The philosophy is to break the cycle of violence by transforming the typical jailhouse culture of humiliation and violence into one of dignity and healing," Benner writes.

Though no comprehensive evaluation of the seven-year-old program has yet been completed, early signs are encouraging: Recidivism among graduates of the jails' intensive drug-therapy program for women is just 15 percent. And the level of violence at the facilities is surprisingly low. The results overall, in fact, have been so positive that the notorious California state prison at Corcoran has launched a pilot program based partly on the jails' treatment philosophy.