In most aspects of our lives we believe in rehabilitation: all people are capable of improvement. But in our nation’s prison system, generally, attempts at rehabilitation are only made in two major classes of offenders: drug addicts and juvenile offenders.

Our penal system makes only half-hearted attempts at rehabilitating offenders even in these obviously deserving cases. For instance, though a juvenile’s past criminal record is sealed, still little is done to alleviate the years of imprisonment that many youths are subjected to. Over 45 percent of incarcerated youths do not have their minimum educational needs met. Even with a sealed criminal record these young adults will still bear the marks of imprisonment.

Too many of our youths today watch their parents struggle for little rewards, with little to gain from the “straight and narrow.” Is it really surprising that our youth turn to crime? Yet incarceration does little to address that reality. By missing the vital socialization period that is required to become a successful adult, young offenders miss out on formation of the habits, discipline and skills which are needed to maintain job, family and community. But if we do believe that youths who have committed a crime are entitled to the tools by which they can become a vital part of their community, then the question becomes: what do youth need to get back on the right track?

The same logic should apply to people who have become addicted to drugs. Those of us who have seen the effects of drug addiction up close can attest to the fact that it is a disease. The desire to quell the pain of the addiction is the impetus to all their actions. The most readily available relief for their pain is more of the drug. But why would someone become addicted to drugs if the result is not only incarceration but also the pain of being addicted? Like the youth who has acted criminally, the drug addict acts toward what he sees as his best interest.

So how can either be rehabilitated in any jail, prison or facility that does not address the initial problem? We need to start showing youth that a good life pays more than crime and we need to show addicts that getting rid of addiction is the only cure to their pain.

Brandi Kishner is a contributor in Chicago. She can be reached at