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Hands to Work Hearts to God: Reinterpreting the American Maximum Security Prison Open Access

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AbstractOvercrowding, violence, and inadequate programs for deterring recidivism and promoting reform make contemporary American prisons costly and unsafe for prisoners, prison workers, and American society. Criminality and the American judicial system have changed considerably over time, as have systems of punishment, but the current penal system is, nonetheless, outdated, ineffective, and unable address the real needs of prisoners or the public. Hands to Work Hearts to God aims to make the time spent in prison safe, effective, and less costly than the current system. Using auto mechanics as a case study and the Shaker principle of controlled work as a template, Hands to Work Hearts to God transforms the abandoned Highland Park Ford Plant in Detroit, Michigan, into a maximum security prison, making safe use of the space designated for work and implementing programs that assist prisoners to acquire skills that prepare them for successful re-entry into society upon completing their sentences. Like the American Shakers, who isolated themselves in spiritual and focused communities, prisoners live in secure units, and work plays a vital role in their cognitive and emotional reform. Regulated spaces will establish successful patterns of nonviolent interaction between prisoners and prison workers. Through repeated learned behaviors, implementation of restraint, therapies that address the roots of criminality, health services, partnerships with employers, and the overarching themes of containment and reform through work, Hands to Work Hearts to God will change the atmosphere, daily routine, and ultimate affect of prison life. The Hands to Work Hearts to God system is based on principles gleaned from Shaker history and architecture, the study of human and environmental psychology, the social and historical context of criminality and punishment, the characteristics of prison life and reform, and scholarship examining other such systems of regulated and contained living as nursing homes and mental health facilities. The concept of work as a tool for reform, self-confidence, cooperation, and personal improvement-- as well as its role in Shaker life-- is also explored. The system described here borrows heavily from principles underlying English prison systems that use work and job preparation as an integral part of the prison sentence and as a method for deterring crime and decreasing the number of people incarcerated. Research shows that violent criminals are less likely to re-offend when they have steady employment and that they behave better when given more rather than less control over their daily lives. With a degree of personal autonomy and a straightforward and honest reward system, people with a history of violent behavior are able to behave productively and nonviolently. Similarly, when kept busy and given tasks that coincide with an obvious incentive and an attainable goal, prisoners can learn to interact cohesively and with purpose. Today's "supermax" prisons continue to further contain and isolate prisoners when what they actually need is to learn methods of successful interpersonal interaction and to develop proficiency in marketable and employable skills. This current form of punishment generally fosters resistance in the prisoner, and his/her behavior deteriorates. Thus, Hands to Work Hearts to God addresses the needs of both society and the criminal. With such a system of authentically confronting the issues that face American society and the American criminal, Hands to Work Hearts to God moves to make the penal system more effective and less expensive, and will decrease recidivism and establish new systems of economic success for reformed criminals.

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