It costs thousands of taxpayer dollars to keep just one person behind bars, but investing in programming to get inmates back on track could save money in the long haul.
At one point in time, many prisons across the country existed almost solely for punishment, but one nearby state prison has a different goal.
More than 1200 women live within the gates at the State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs, but every day they’re learning spending time behind bars doesn’t have to be a life sentence.
Unlike many other correctional institutions, these women have a chance to get real-life experience working in an optical lab. One inmate already has a job set up as an optician when she’s released. She says, “everyone makes mistakes. We’re all human. Some of us pay a little bit more than others but we do have an opportunity to get back there and be good role models for society.”
The idea is that if prisoners have the training to find employment, they’ll stay out of the system. 250 inmates alone are working in the dining hall. There’s also an emphasis on life skills.
Another inmate has been part of the facility’s greenhouse since 2011. She says, “A lot of times I think there’s a negative stigma on women that are incarcerated and I think this gives us a feeling of self-worth. We get to work together.”
Experts say getting the inmates ready for rehabilitation also comes down to tackling some of those challenges they may have come in with. Rose Tarquinio, Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist, explains, “Most of them have experienced every type of abuse imaginable. They’ve lost their way. They’ve lost a lot of their supports, burned a lot of bridges along the way.”
Tarquinio manages a program exclusively for women struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. She says the prison believes in a philosophy that changing the way you think changes the way you behave.
Employees tell us they receive a lot of calls from women who’ve left and have been successful. Professionally, organizers say there are more than 30 former inmates working in the optical field today.