The United States has the largest per capita rate of incarceration, and also among the highest recidivism rates in the world. The practice of putting people behind bars merely to punish them has not succeeded in driving down crime rates or helped prisoners find a way out of crime. There is a significant push for a system that aims to solve the root causes of crime.
A large proportion of crime is economically motivated, be that involvement in organised crime to provide for yourself or shoplifting to feed your family. These are crimes committed by people who may not have much economic opportunity and turn instead to the shadow economy to succeed. They take the risk of crime because the alternative is often even worse. Incarcerating them punitively does not solve the root cause of their criminal activity - the economic deprivation. If anything it makes it worse. After all, the stigma of being a convicted criminal often prevents you from getting work. Every year you spend in prison means you have one less year of work experience, and one more year where what skills you have become increasingly outdated or simply forgotten. If that wasn’t enough, this has generational impacts since being unable to provide for your children or support them in their own education means that they are more likely to be trapped in a similar cycle of poverty. Contrast this with what a rehabilitative prison system would do. Providing prisoners with effective, relevant vocational training can give them opportunities to rejoin the legitimate workforce and not have to rely on the shadow economy. Giving prisoners this opportunity means they can stay out of crime and significantly drops recidivism rates. This is important when you consider that __% of crime is committed by offenders with a criminal history. Giving these people another option is not only the best way to improve their lives, but also makes life safer for everyone else.
There are two objections to this argument. Firstly: how do we rehabilitate crimes that are not of necessity - violent or white-collar crimes. They may be a proportionally smaller number but are often just as impactful either because of the loss of human life or the financial crippling of thousands of people. Given that these crimes are just as important, even if they are not as numerous - how do we deal with them. It feels like a purely rehabilitative prison system would never incarcerate white collar criminals if they pinky promise to never do it again. Yet these are often the individual crimes that harm the largest number of people - either through lower tax revenue because of tax evasion, or straightforwardly through disasters like Enron. Given that white collar crime is disproportionately committed by the wealthy, you would be exacerbating the incarceration of the poor. Secondly, even when it comes to rehabilitation by means of job training, the chances of such a program being successful isn't particularly high. Vocational training schemes already exist, but getting funding for them is very challenging. Appearing to mollycoddle prisoners is often political suicide, particularly given that many countries don't give prisoners the right to vote or care more about crime prevention than their particular rights. If you want to give at risk populations the chance at economic opportunity - invest the money you would put into prison training schemes into schools and internships for non-offenders to prevent them from ever straying into crime in the first place.
Most crime is economically motivated and committed by perpetrators who don’t have the skillsets/qualifications to earn legitimate income. Rehabilitative prisons can help prisoners get appropriate skillsets and qualification to get a legitimate income source. Rehabilitative prisons would cut down on most crimes
Rejecting the premises
Most crime is economically motivated and committed by perpetrators who don’t have the skillsets/qualifications to earn legitimate income. Even if this statement is true, just because this is the largest proportion of crimes doesn't mean we can ignore the harms that other crime - like white collar or violent crimes - do to people. Rehabilitative prisons can help prisoners get appropriate skillsets and qualification to get a legitimate income source. Rehabilitative programs exist already, but they are by and large unsuccessful. If we can make them effective, we should target people with such programs before they commit crimes and go into prison.