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A Call To Reduce Prison Population

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A Call to Reduce the Prison Population and to Help Bring About Change in the Prison System

By Sr. Brenda Walsh, Racine Dominican

 

(An excellent source of information is the Washington Friends Committee on National Legislation Newsletter - No 250, September, October 2011. Go to http://fcnl.org/prisons.

 Statistics and quotes used with permission.

 

Another good source is Fellowship Magazine, Spring 2011 issue, Vol.7. (Check http://www.forusa.org. )It includes several articles on Transformation of/in Prisons. Statistics and quotes used with permission)

 

In recent times, some church and civic leaders are calling for changes in the current prison system and a reduction in the prison population.  

 

The reasons given are these:

 

1.     We have the largest prison system in the world. While the United States comprises 5% of the world’s population, we hold about 25% of the world’s reported prisoners.

2.     The cost is exorbitant to the tax payers, communities, victims and offenders and their families. Resources are taken away from basic human needs such as food, housing, education and medical care for the physically and mentally ill.

3.     The current system is unfair and unjust. There is a much higher percentage of prisoners that are people of color, poor, uneducated, lacking work skills and other basic human needs. In 2003, black men were twelve times more likely to be sent to prison for a drug offense that white men, even though both groups use and sell drugs at basically the same rates. Too many undocumented workers are ending up in prison. “Our prison system constitutes a form of apartheid – an institutionalized apartheid that is social, economic and racial – a crisis that particularly imposes itself as cultural crisis.” FOR Spring 2011 p. 12.

4.     Imprisonment does not make our streets safer.  Some who leave prison have no means of supporting themselves and want to return to prison where they have at least some food and a roof over their heads at night.

5.     Many people need to be freed from their addictions in order to be able to live a safe and humane life. Programs are lacking to address their addictions. We need more treatment instead of prisons.

 

What are Some Alternatives to Prison?

 

1       Locking up undocumented immigrants is not the answer. We need to make major changes in the Immigration System.  The number of people locked up in the last 15 years has increased seven-fold. Families are torn apart and no treatment is available for those needing treatment for addictions. People need to get involved with one of the groups working for Immigration Reform. “Treatment Instead of Prison” is one such program.

2   Use some of the money spent on incarceration to provide a good education, health care for those lacking it, to address addictions and provide job training for those  who are ready for it.  Some communities are already establishing needed programs and services and are having good results by getting people into jobs and ensuring their continuance in the work obtained.  In Wisconsin, we already have services that have proven to be effective and transformative strategies. It is a collaborative effort between the Dept. of Corrections, Human Services and Office of Justice Assistance, which has established the Treatment Alternatives and diversion (TAD). Grant money is provided to fund projects that provide alternatives to prosecution and incarceration for criminal offender who abuse alcohol or drugs.

     An anonymous college graduate wrote this in prison: “The challenge before us today is to bring higher education back. I pray that they will rise to this challenge and reverse the negative program cutbacks that our government, so blinded by ignorance, has imposed on prisons, people incarcerated and society at large.  “FOR – Spring 2011, p. 14

3       Address people’s spiritual needs and involve churches in meeting some of the needs and in creating solutions.  This would give people some motivation for living a meaningful life and working for the common good. This service needs to be available within and outside the prison system.  People can be trained for such services that will bring about good results.  This effort must start with young children who need to learn the art of nonviolent ways of solving problems and learn personal responsibility in their daily lives.

4       Support war veterans returning home and provide the services they need for physical of mental problems. We must welcome them home and help them find some solutions to their many challenges.

5       Reverse the negative cutbacks in funding presently carried out by our local, state and national government. Use the money for basic resources needed to prepare people for life and work.

6       Mobilize people and groups for systemic change and work to bring about the changes needed. Invest in training for nonviolence. This will help people to stay away from violent means of solving problems.

7       Prepare people well for re-entry back to their communities after their time of incarceration has ended.

Let us pray and work for prison reform and find alternative ways to deal with people who break the law and need to reform their lives. By working together and calling on our faith resources, we can accomplish the task. Let us begin today with courage, conviction and hope.

 


 

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