I agree with much of this -was also wondering whatever happened to Webb's committee. But I'd focus more on the criminal code and sentencing than prison, because these folks shouldn't be i prison in the first place...---------------------------------------
Published March 09, 2010 @ 08:09AM PT
I've become discouraged about the prospect for meaningful prison reform. In March of 2008, Senator Jim Webb introduced a Senate bill to form a commission that would study our criminal justice system from top to bottom. Slamming America's prison system as a national disgrace, the Virginia senator urged reform. But after extensive media coverage when Senator Webb announced his bill, we haven't heard much about it. Despite bi-partisan support in the Senate, the House of Representatives has yet to introduce a companion bill. Now we've begun a new congressional election year and, judging by the Republican legislature to health care reform, it doesn't look like legislation for prison reform will make it through this Congress.
How long will Congress ignore the need for meaningful prison reform? Our prison system confines more than 2.2 million people, costing taxpayers $60 billion every year to operate. What do Americans receive in return for this massive public expenditure? When we consider recidivism rates of 70%, it's clear that rather than making communities safer, prisons breed continuing cycles of failure. That's why we need to reform the prison system from one that extracts vengeance to one that operates with a more intelligent design.
The biggest problem with our federal prison system is that it extinguishes hope. Each federal institution ought to hang the sign Danté wrote about at the entrance to his home: Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
Once the courts finalize a prison term, the system does not offer a mechanism through which offenders can work to reconcile with society, to redeem themselves, to earn freedom while working to restore their good citizenship. All that matters is the passing of time, frequently multiple decades for non-violent offenders convicted of selling drugs. That is the fundamental flaw of the federal prison system. Rather than encouraging offenders to work toward becoming one with the fabric of society, the federal prison system obliterates hope, and in the process, it inadvertently perpetuates failure as high recidivism rates and their accompanying expenditures confirm.
Eradicating hope comes with harmful consequences for society. When offenders begin serving lengthy sentences, and the system repeatedly tells them they've "got nothin' comin'," it hardens many prisoners who would have welcomed opportunities to reform, making some susceptible to radicalization. Without hope of returning to society as contributing citizens, many in prison commit themselves further to criminal organizations, prison gangs and, sometimes, terrorist sympathizers. Instead of protecting society, the harsher system breeds a cancer that spreads out from prison boundaries to threaten communities across America.
From the Middle East we hear about military strategies that encourage combatants to abandon allegiances to terrorist organizations and join law-abiding society. We need prison reforms that would make use of similar tactics.
Prisons should not exist solely to punish those convicted of crime. They should also encourage offenders to work toward becoming one with law-abiding society. Instead of alienating non-violent and non-threatening offenders from family and community, rendering those people less likely to emerge from the prison experience as contributing citizens, prisons should offer pathways for non-violent offenders to work toward earning freedom through merit in incremental steps.
With annual costs to taxpayers of $25,000 per year to confine each offender, society should welcome reforms that would make better use of its limited prison resources. After all, every dollar that taxpayers waste locking a man in a cage is a dollar less that is available for health care, education, or other social services. Meaningful prison reforms would bring opportunities for prisoners to work toward earning freedom. Such reforms would lower operating costs and contribute to safer communities. For those reasons, we need more than fading headlines. We need congressional action that will bring prison reform now.