I would just about go crazy if I had to stay in the same residence or building around the clock, day after day. I am an extremely active person; the confinement would kill me. If for some reason, I had no choice but to remain on house arrest, I would go to any lengths possible to ensure that I had adequate mental and physical stimulation. A device on which to listen to audio books. Numerous paperback novels. Notebook paper for writing and journaling. Ingredients to bake delicious desserts. A yoga mat. Exercise DVDs. Colored pencils. Watercolors. Magazines, scissors, glue, and poster board to make collages. Music. The list is endless.
Young children possess a lot of energy. Ask any parents of toddlers, and they will tell you that without adequate stimulation and planned activities, their young’uns will wreak havoc. Children draw on the freshly painted white walls of the living room. Children smash chips and crackers into the carpets. Loose-leaf papers fly off the coffee table as the children run in circles playing tag. Beverages spill all over the house. Disaster ensues.
Like people, dogs need mental and physical stimulation as well. Just take a few minutes to browse the internet, and you will find many articles on the topic. Without adequate stimulation while you are at work all day, dogs will become destructive or depressed. Either your dog will get into tons of trouble by tearing up your favorite pair of shoes or he will sleep, and sleep, and sleep.
The same articles on dog ownership suggest that you buy dog toys that provide mental stimulation such as treat-dispensing toys. This way, your furry-friends can have adequate mental stimulation while you are away. In addition, daily walks where the canines can release energy further help them expel this pint up vitality.
Knowing what we do about the need for mental and physical stimulation, why does society find the lack of mental and physical stimulation in jails and prisons acceptable? It seems as if society hides behind the cliché, “Prison is to punish.” However, this expression does not provide a satisfactory answer to the conundrum.
While one role of the jail and prison system is to punish, another equally important component is rehabilitation. However, punishment comes in different shapes and sizes. If you punish a child by taking away food, for instance, that child is going to be malnourished. Even if the child deserves some form of punishment, everyone agrees parents should not starve children. Similarly, say that a child does draw on the walls of your new house. The child needs to learn that the behavior is not acceptable, but it would not serve the child to deprive him or her of all artistic expression.
The punishment that we proscribe must align with society’s other goals. If we truly want to rehabilitate people and put a stop to the revolving door of jails and prisons, then we need to implement punishments that are consistent with rehabilitation. We cannot claim to value rehabilitation when we are sitting back and watching the criminal justice system enact policies and procedures that are at odds with such an outcome.
It is discouraging that society finds it satisfactory to deny mental and physical stimulation to those behind bars. It is disheartening that society concocts justifications for such a denial. There is a justification for just about any action if we try hard enough to uncover it. There are always arguments to support the position we want to endorse. However, just because it is possible to make a certain argument, does not mean that the results and consequences of that particular viewpoint are beneficial.
We can all agree that there need to be changes to the prison system. The arrangements we have in place right now are not working. People regularly reoffend once released from prison. Individuals lack the necessary resources to succeed outside the prison walls. Politicians across the nation try to address the crisis of our prison system, but the issues persist.
It is time that we try something new. It is time that we try what we know works. Humans need mental and physical stimulation to excel in the world. Problems arise out of boredom. Accordingly, it is time to apply this knowledge and understanding to the criminal justice system. We cannot help people rehabilitate without the proper resources behind bars. This includes mental and physical stimulation. It is time to expand the available activities in jails and prisons instead of restricting access to these endeavors.