In the mid ‘70s I worked for four years as a physician assistant in the Seattle city and King County jails.
Most of my job was to treat drug and alcohol withdrawal, psychosis and trauma (people seemed to fall down on their way to jail). It wasn’t long before I realized that roughly 70 percent of the inmates shouldn’t be in jail and that the recidivism rate was also around 70 percent. I went to the University of Washington studying psychology and sociology in an attempt to find out why jails don’t work and after much research I believe:
1) No research has been able to demonstrate a positive link between a higher rate of imprisonment and a reduced crime rate.
2) The less effective the prisons are in reducing crime, the higher the demand for more imprisonment.
3). Being “tough on crime” is a precondition for election to public office so officials build bigger jails.
4. Jails are an excellent school for teaching people how to be a criminal.
5) The only positive function of a jail is to keep dangerous persons off the street.
So I felt duplicitous when I helped design the medical facility for the new King County Jail; a jail that was quickly too full.
Jails are for incapacitating the most harmful offenders and don’t work as a form of punishment. We need to cease using jails as a form of punishment and spend the money on education and social programs to prevent crime.