If education were free and non-instrumental, what would it look like?
January 28, 2013 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Prisoners are encouraged by wardens and pastors, parole boards and philosophy professors to learn new things, to reflect on their experience, to make something of themselves in prison.

Honestly, this is not the impression I've been given of the American criminal justice system at all. I wish.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:37 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

encouraged =|= adequately supported
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:41 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

These guys sound like outstanding students. They're angry at the Phaedo. They're writing poetry as a disturbed response to Bentham's Panopticon. They expect philosophy to matter. It's a response that 20th century analytic philosophy often tried to discourage. I would like to become a teacher who deserves such students.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:54 PM on January 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

Anotherpanacea is absolutely right that there's often a lack of support. There's also the problem that a lot of the "make something of yourself" basically boils down to "attend AA and go to church." That said, judges and parole boards definitely want to hear about people doing things in prison to better themselves. That's not to say that it's "enough" in the sense that people get out once they've shown that they're improving themselves; a lot of them get a pat on the back for doing good and then get sent back to finish their sentences.

Also, as all things in criminal justice, I'm guessing the variance between states is very high.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:56 PM on January 28, 2013

The articles point out that the lack of support serves an important function:

The prison system itself, along with the public that supports it, both expects the prisoner to transform him- or herself, and also blocks that transformation...The man you wanted to kill was the abusive robber, high on crack, who pistol-whipped and shot two customers at a Seven-Eleven store in 1984. Instead, in 1990, the state electrocutes a balding, religious, model prisoner in a neat blue-denim uniform.

posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:09 PM on January 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

I was surprised to see when I clicked the link that it was the Nashville facility they were talking about. I was there this past summer taking a tour, and asked a number of questions about their book policy after seeing numerous copies of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow in prison cells. That, apparently, did not count as "dangerous" or "gang-related" as per the guidelines. Attempting to get at the parameters of the standard, I asked about Black Panthers material and was told that things like Assata Shakur's autobiography were considered "gang-related" and banned. I guess Michelle Alexander has been accepted as generally more "academic" than "radical"?

Still, though, the death row in Nashville is a hell of a lot more "liberal" (if you can call it that) in terms of the "freedoms" (if you can call them that) afforded its residents than a lot of other death rows or even minimum security prisons. In my experience, there is a tremendous amount of variance between state policies, although they will all justify their varying levels of draconian policies as necessary for public safety.
posted by likeatoaster at 9:50 AM on January 29, 2013

Ignorance About Education
posted by eviemath at 8:18 AM on February 1, 2013

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