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Prison Boot Camp
At first the inmates were too busy getting their asses kicked to notice me. They were experiencing the first day of the Colorado Corrections Alternative Program boot camp, a program aimed at reducing recidivism using military-style structure and discipline. Some of them quit on the first day. The rest struggled and adapted. I drove to Buena Vista once or twice a week when I had time, photographing their progress through the three-month program in late 2008.
It was one of the only programs of its kind. First-time offenders with nonviolent crimes were eligible. The rewards were substantial if you finished. You had a chance see your wife or your baby sooner. You could get on with your life. Along the way you could earn a G.E.D.
The thing was, it didn’t work. The program closed in June 2010 as the state cut prison funding. A troubling statistic was the nail in the coffin: nearly the same percentage of inmates from the program were returning to prison as those who had not completed it. Graduates weren’t any more likely to stay out.
I think it still mattered. Alternative corrections programs are attempts to create a better prison system. Beyond housing its prisoners, CCAP invested time and money in their future. The inmates were offered education and purpose and a way to better themselves.
Everyone deserves this. A penitentiary must be just that: an opportunity for penitence and redemption. With many states cutting prison funding and the highest incarceration rate in the world, the United States must reexamine the way it treats its prisoners. It is critical that we continue to fund, and experiment with, alternative prison programs.
After teaching English in the Peace Corps, Theo Stroomer (b. 1982) studied photojournalism at the University of Colorado. He was selected to attend the Eddie Adams Workshop in 2009. His latest work explores the relationship between mining and water resources in Bolivia.