In its most basic interpretation, prison reform refers to the endeavor of enhancing prison conditions, establishing a more efficient penal system, or employing other alternatives to imprisonment. Being institutionalized, on the other hand, means that incarcerated individuals are confined in a certain prison wherein they should follow the rules and regulations established therein.
Institutionalized individuals lose the privilege of doing things on their own accord and must follow the laws set forth in such an institution. For instance, people in jail eat when they are told to eat, sleep and wake up at designated hours, take their baths and exercise when they are told to do so. Institutionalized people barely have any freedom to do as they please since being in captivity is a major part of the sentence they are serving.
What does prison reform and being institutionalized mean for incarcerated people? It means that if the people who are behind the prison reform movement succeed, people in prison would experience much better food service, enhanced health care, and improved sanitation. There would also be a much better process of protection for prisoners as well as improvement of the general conditions inside prisons and jails.
For the last few centuries, prisons have become the primary disciplinary tool used in punishing individuals who have committed felonies. In the earlier days, corporal punishment (death penalty by hanging or guillotine), banishment, public whipping, fines, penal servitude, and public humiliation were the punishment applied for offenses considered as grave. Created to provide confinement for offenders, prisons are intended to be a safe haven for incarcerated individuals while they serve their sentence and transform themselves in the process.
However, over the years, prisons and correctional centers have become institutions for prisoners which nevertheless provide no protection to inmates from fellow prisoners, abusive staff, inhuman treatment, unhygienic surroundings, poor quality of food, and even unclean drinking water!
People are asking what does prison reform and being institutionalized mean in the context of today’s prison conditions. It means a lot for the incarcerated people who had been suffering far more than they should be with the overcrowded population, unsanitary conditions, and food that even pet dogs or cats would not dare to eat. It would mean their living conditions would improve and they would have a greater chance to redeem themselves with diverse programs that are meant to provide them avenues to change for the better.
Being institutionalized in the real sense would also provide jail authorities the chance to better manage their prison or correctional centers. If incarcerated individuals are genuinely institutionalized, they would have fewer reasons to do harm against fellow inmates and prison staff. They would be able to live harmoniously in a prison community, interacting with fellows in a humane and just manner.
They are also taught various programs and activities which not only makes them adapt to prison life better but also gradually prepare them for the time when they are due to return to the outside world, to live once again as free individuals.
What does prison reform and being institutionalized mean to people who matter? That is the more important question. Those people who matter are those who toil almost day and night just to launch prison reform movements across the continent and the world, those who continuously support the movement, and those who are in the position of influencing the establishment of the needed changes.
It means the realization of their dreams, the fulfillment of their endeavors towards making prison life more humane and safer for penalized individuals. It also means truly giving these people a real chance to reform themselves and perhaps become better members of society upon their re-entry to it. It also means putting into real good use the money of the people spent on maintaining the numerous prisons across the states. These prisons had been encouraging prisoners to be as helpless and useless as they can ever be. Should this reform flourish, it could mean better opportunities for incarcerated individuals when they do get back to society.
If you have not bear witness to the real scenario in the numerous prisons all over the country and even across the continent, you will have a hard time understanding the efforts of the people behind this prison reform movement. Of course, we all know that offenders should get penalized for their deeds but to what extent should that be? Would that mean stripping them off of all their rights such as treating them much worse than we treat dogs and stray animals? Would it mean spending millions on their food and upkeep of prisons just so they could breed more crimes or produce more useless individuals who are not only threats to communities outside but provide no beneficial contribution to society?
It should be clarified that the reform movement is not intended to pamper prisoners and tolerate their helplessness. Rather, it is the movement’s goal to provide an avenue where these criminals can reform and equip themselves to be better members of society. Reformists argue that we could not hope to make incarcerated individuals become better persons if the system under which they live (temporary or not) treats them much worse than animals! Moreover, they can hardly become better society members if they get used to prison ways with nothing productive to do all day.
The world cannot hope to produce responsible reformed prisoners if we tolerate their seeming ‘helplessness’. The prison system nowadays has evolved to the point that it has become one of the breeding grounds of various heinous crimes instead of helping prisoners transform. The people behind the movement want the prison system to produce institutionalized incarcerated individuals who are reformed in their ways and provide no threat to society upon getting back to the outside world. Reformists don’t want to produce more hardcore criminals who spend their days either in prison or trying to flee from authorities for another crime once freed.
A reformed prison system and an institutionalized prisoner would mean giving chance to people who have committed grievous mistakes in their lives to transform themselves for the better. It also means the prison system is able to inculcate the right values on the prisoners that would help them change for the better and teach them skills that they can put to good use to start a new, law-abiding life in the community. It is the goal of the reform movement to put to good use the money that the people are paying every year for the maintenance of these prisons. It is hoped that these correctional centers indeed are able to accomplish its task of transforming prisoners to become useful members of society.