I don't usually encourage people to spend more time watching television, but do yourself a favor and catch a repeat of the Ted Koppel special "Breaking Point" on Discovery Channel. The show gives an excellent snapshot of our nation's downright insane correctional system and meticulously documents its transition into the post-rehabilitation, purely punitive era.
Since 1980 we have essentially abandoned the idea of educating or rehabilitating the incarcerated in favor of simply warehousing them. It's pretty basic – offer tidal waves of rhetoric to scare the crap out of yuppie suburban taxpayers, build more jails (with a healthy dose of privatization), and shift the emphasis to segregating Us from as many of Them as possible. Add a healthy dose of lunatic recipes for overcrowding like mandatory minimums, three-strikes legislation, and boatloads of War on Drugs-sponsored 10- to 15-year sentences. Forget all that liberal nanny state New Deal era nonsense about rehabilitation – the solution to all of our problems is more brown people in more jails for longer periods of time. We don't want to rehabilitate them. The goal is simply to get rid of them.
One scene from the Koppel special merits emphasis. Prisoners suspected of having drugs (a neurotic obsession of the staff throughout the program) are subject to constant searches. In some cases they are suspected of swallowing or inserting drugs into their anuses to prevent detection. To counter this, the guards wrap the suspected inmates in an orange body suit which is sealed with tape at the neck, waist, ankles, and wrists. The inmates must wear the sealed suit for three days (urinating and defecating in their clothes) after which the suit is removed and their excretions are searched for drugs.
Read that again and let it sink in. Upon seeing this, I beg any rational person to ask: Is it even remotely surprising that these people are like animals when they get out of prison? Anyone shocked that they fail to rejoin society as productive members? The system treats them like animals and they become exactly that. Then the Tough on Crime crowd can point at them and say "Look! How can animals like this be rehabilitated?"
Welcome to another step in America's journey to a third-world society. 10% of the country controls 99% of the wealth, 80% of the population (the wage earners) live in debt/fear/insecurity, and the remaining 10% are entirely superfluous. You just have to get rid of them. Third-world countries send out paramilitary skull-crackers to round up and kill them. We enlightened Americans demonize, warehouse, and brutalize them until their lives are forfeit. That's really all the War on Drugs is about.