Off-Ramp | Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Powderkeg in a Prison

(The photo above, by Ted Soqui, was taken in the gymnasium dormitory of California State Prison at Lancaster for Los Angeles Magazine, which has posted a slideshow with many more of Soqui's striking photos.)

I just posted the unedited version of my Off-Ramp interview with Joe Domanick about his long, fascinating, and frankly depressing Los Angeles Magazine article about the state's prison problem, using the state prison in Lancaster as a microcosm of what's gone wrong and getting worse.

Two things have always stood out to me in reporting on prisons and prisoners in my 27 years as a journalist.

-- First, prisoners and prison officials, if not politicians, agree that incarcerating someone is the punishment, and further punishment for the original crime is not supposed to happen behind bars. That is to say, experts agree that prison rape, bad health care, and crowding are not acceptable inside prison, no matter how bad the crime.

-- Secondly, the only thing that has EVER been proven to reduce recidivism is education. Education programs (GED programs, creative writing, etc.) not only provide some measure of rehabilitation, but they also measurably lower problems inside prisons and more cheaply than punitive measures. One expert told me, "They're gonna get out. What kind of prisoner would you rather have living in your neighborhood? One with an education and a job or one without?"

Just food for thought, and -- I hope -- your comments below.