Prisoner Re-entry Mediation – Better than cable everytime!
Last week in Trinidad there was a furore when it was announced by the Prisons Commissioner that cable television would be installed in the nation’s prisons. Citizens aired their views via radio, television and the press and it seemed that outrage was the prevailing feeling over this initiative. The majority of opinions seemed to favour the treatment of prisoners as outcasts from society who, having been sentenced to a term in prison, should be provided with food, water, a bed and a suit of clothes and absolutely nothing else for the entirety of their sentence! No cable TV, no conjugal visits, no educational programmes. In this climate, is there a place for mediation? My answer (of course) would be a resounding YES!
What the people who think of prison as a vast, empty wasteland fail to remember is that most prisoners will be released back into society at some point. Therefore, it seems the sensible thing to provide prisoners with tools that will ensure that when they are released, they can re-enter society and I would argue that the introduction of mediation in prison will have just as many benefits for society as for the prisoner himself. One form in which mediation could be introduced is as a reintegration tool through a prisoner re-entry mediation programme.
In a re-entry mediation programme, a few months before a prisoner is to be released, the process of mediation is explained to him and he is asked whether he wants to engage in mediation with any one of the persons who will play a part in his release and re-integration. Prisoners usually identify parents, siblings, spouses, the mother/father of their children and their children, if they are of an age where they can participate effectively in mediation, as parties with whom they wish to engage in mediation.
The subject matter of re-entry mediation ranges from housing arrangements, to reuniting with family members or other important people in their lives and even the creation of a parenting plan for children who they would have been somewhat estranged from but with whom they wish to re-establish a relationship.
The goal, as in any other type of mediation, is to get the prisoner and the party with whom he is engaging in mediation to listen to, and show respect for, each other’s point of view and establish better relationships between them. When they rejoin their families and communities, the ex-inmates will put their new communication skills to work in the households and neighborhoods where their problems often began.
The benefits of re-entry mediation are some of the same benefits you get in any other type of mediation. It saves time and money and each party has an equal chance to be heard. However, most importantly, having resolved issues with their family members with whom they are in all likelihood going to reside upon their release, and having had the opportunity to make plans for employment, education and even treatment for drug & alcohol abuse, ex-inmates stand a much better chance of not falling into the traps which exist for them to run afoul of the law and return to prison.
Society needs to realize that there must be a balance between retribution and rehabilitation in prisons. If it cannot initially throw its support behind cable television and conjugal visits then certainly it can start with mediation.