Myths From the Inside | Letters | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Myths From the Inside 

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At age 42, for the first time in my life, I am in prison, and I've discovered 10 common prison myths:

Myth 1: Everyone in prison claims they're innocent. I've met almost no one in prison who claims they're innocent.

Myth 2: Rapes, theft, and violence are a way of life in prison. Prison rapes, theft, and violence are fairly rare. All three are greatly exaggerated stereotypes. Bar none, some of the finest people I have ever met are in prison.

Myth 3: The more serious the crime, the more dangerous the person. Often, that's not true. Many people (even with serious crimes) have turned themselves around. Strangely, people convicted of more serious crimes actually recidivate less (perhaps because they've already hit rock bottom): For example, sex offenders and homicide offenders recidivate 38 to 40 percent less than the average.

Myth 4: The United States incarcerates fewer people than other countries, but at a higher rate than any other country in the world; the United States has 5 percent of the world's population but 25 percent of the world's incarcerated.

Myth 5: Utah has increased its higher education, rehabilitation, and treatment programs. In Utah, the opposite is happening. Consider education. For every $1 spent on prison education, between $6 and $13 is saved. This is because educated convicts recidivate less: non high-school graduates recidivate at over 70 percent, high school graduates at 24 percent, associate's degree graduates at 10 percent, bachelor's degree graduates at 5.6 percent, and master's degree graduates at 0.5 percent. Yet in 2007, the state legislature stopped funding prison higher-education programs under the theory that prisoners need to be punished, not educated.

Myth 6: County jails are better able to rehabilitate prisoners. County jails offer limited (if any) rehabilitation programs. Time spent in county jails is largely unproductive.

Myth 7: Prisoners can earn "good time" to reduce their sentences. Even attorneys and judges are misinformed on this one. There is no such thing as "good time" in Utah prisons.

Myth 8: Prisoners know how much time they will serve. Utah is one of the last states in the union to have what is called "indeterminate sentencing." Indeterminate sentencing means that when a person is sentenced, they have no idea how long they will serve. Utah has sentencing guidelines for each crime, but the guidelines have become ambiguous and meaningless.

Myth 9: Prisoners show little rehabilitative initiative. Gunnison prison has a prison-housing unit called STRIVE (Success Through Responsibility, Integrity, Values and Effort), which inmates and staff co-created. STRIVE inmates maintain 40-plus-hour productive weeks, and teach classes to one another on topics such as fatherhood, relapse prevention, emotional control, etc.). STRIVE, a voluntary program, is one of the cheapest, and most successful programs in the prison, with recidivism rates below 10 percent, yet STRIVE is not recognized by the board.

Myth 10: Being incarcerated affects only the individual incarcerated. Studies estimate that the real cost of incarceration per inmate (when you include the costs of building new prisons, unpaid taxes, etc.) is $168,000 per year. With 7,200 Utah inmates, that's more than $1.2 billion a year. Families and children of inmates also suffer.

Some argue that prisons aren't perfect, but that they're the best we've got. Other countries are, however, trying punishments that mitigate the unintended consequences of prisons. In the Netherlands, for example, 19 prisons have been closed as the country focuses more on treatment and rehabilitation.

Anonymous Utah Inmate
Via the Internet

Correction: The Oct. 16 story "Sun Block" contained incorrect information about the frequency of Rocky Mountain Power's billed charges. RMP charges both administrative and customer charges by month, per meter.

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