I couldn’t have said it better myself

U.S. Incarceration Rate is a National Disgrace

“Being tough on crime” overrides national wellbeing. This article has some pretty staggering stats referencing the differences among crime categories and how they fluctuate from state to state. It reminds me of the class we had earlier in the semester when we talked about what makes a good policy and the conversation that followed regarding why some policies spread to surrounding states faster than others. I have cut some sections of an article written by Nake M. Kamrany and Ryan J. Boyd that was published in the Huffington Post last April. The article was well-written and explains many of the points I believe to be important about prison reform.  I have pulled a few of them.

“In Rummel v. Estelle, the Supreme Court upheld a life sentence with the possibility of parole for William James Rummel for a felony fraud crime amounting to $120.75. On his third offense, Rummel refused to return money received as payment for unsatisfactory repairs of an air conditioning unit, resulting with a life sentence.”

Really?  …and this is justice?  ‘Common sense’ shows all kinds of wrong-doing on this one.

“Another case that demonstrates impacts of such minimum punishment laws is Ewing v. California. In 2000, Ewing stole three golf clubs worth $399 each and was charged and convicted of felony grand theft of personal property. During sentencing, Ewing requested the judge in the case exercise discretion permitted under California law and reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor. The judge declined and sentenced Ewing in accordance with the three strikes law. On appeal, Ewing argued the sentence of 25 years to life was grossly disproportionate to the crime and therefore a violation of the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishments. The court, reasoning that the three strikes law served the state’s legitimate interests, rejected this claim. The California Supreme Court declined to hear the case.”

Grossly disproportionate to say the least.

“A study has shown that a 10 percent increase in incarceration is associated with two to four percent drop in crime.”

I don’t know the detail of the study done to come up with this statistic, but according to this stat it appears all the more evident that our overcrowded prison system is not resulting in a safer society.  What is the point of prisons, again?

The war on drugs

“Non-violent drug offenders make up 25 percent of the incarcerated population (up from less than 10 percent in 1980). While in Europe, drug offenders may be sent to outpatient clinics, in the United States, enormous sums are spent waging war on drugs and incarceration. There is a disconnect between the intended results of our politicians and the actual results that the taxpayers are paying.”

I believe the War on Drugs has created unintended consequences. I am mindful that not all drug-related offenses are dealing with an addict, but perhaps someone who is addicted to   a lifestyle ‘achieved’ by selling drugs.  There is a difference and this needs to be taken into consideration.

“61.8 percent of all inmates (including jail, state prison, and federal prison) committed non-violent offenses. “

I believe this stat may help explain why incarcerating so many people does not create a safer society.



US prisons are full

In Stone’s chapter 13 she talks about the many different types of rules, how they have formed, and the primary purpose of them.  Formal rules, otherwise known as laws, as well as social customs, traditions, and moral rules.  It is discussed that the threat of punishment is always a potential consequence when a rule is not followed.  According to the graphic, one is lead to believe that the threat of punishment does not deter individuals from behavior that lands them in the criminal justice system.  Justice William O. Douglass was quoted saying, “To send men to jail for violating standards they cannot understand, construe, and apply is a monstrous thing to do in a Nation dedicated to fair trials and due process.”  America’s mass incarceration rates make me wonder if all the people incarcerated have had an opportunity at due process.  In the last several weeks alone, there have been multiple stories in the news of people who were wrongfully convicted.  How can this be if we are a Nation of fair trials and due process?

The big picture

The article by Phillips & Bloom discussed the implications for families when a parent is incarcerated; they are extensive and include: learning problems, behavioral issues, health/mental health, and substance abuse issues among others.  This is what I find to be so overwhelming about the consequences of incarceration.  It is not okay to break the law.  I get that.  I believe in respecting authority and the laws that are put in place.  I also agree that there needs to be consequences when laws are not obeyed.  However, the implications for this are generational.  In many families, all it takes is one cycle through the criminal justice system and they are entangled in it for years.  Years that impact their parents quality of life, their children’s quality of life, and their quality of life.  This results in the incarcerated person’s child(ren) growing up without a parent, potentially even starting at birth.  I won’t even get into all the implications that creates such as the likelihood that child is denied an opportunity to create a secure attachment to their biological parent….or even to any adult.  This alone creates all kinds of problems for that child as they go through life…

The bottom line is this.  Children who have an incarcerated parent are likely to be in the care of relatives and have academic, behavior, and emotional problems.  These three variables are largely found among students in an alternative school.   (Alternative schools can serve as an opportunity to graduate and provide protection against one getting in more trouble, for these students that is great.)  However, many of these youth end up in detention centers and eventually the adult criminal justice system.  This is the domino effect of incarceration and a snapshot of the destruction it causes its many victims.


It isn’t easy

Criminal Justice Policies

Incarceration is EXPENSIVE in all sense of the word.  To some extent it serves as a ‘business,’ but lets get real, some people need to be incarcerated.  They pose a threat to society.  They are unsafe and unpredictable.   Unfortunately, their incarceration always comes after someone (or many “someone’s”) has/have become victims before they can legally be quarantined from society.  Is it fair?  Not especially.  However, it’s also not ‘fair’ that many are victims themselves.    Victims of child abuse, victims of a drug-addicted mother, victims of being ignored throughout their childhood- left to fend for themselves, left playing violence filled video games on long summer days, victims who were told they were unlovable and would never be anything.  Victims of self-hatred.

In reflection to the article we read this week for class by Musheno, Palumbo, and Levine, I am reminded of the forces that make it so challenging to improve the criminal justice system.  I think this article did a great job painting the picture of how intertwined the issues within criminal justice really are.

I remember six years ago when I started working in the jail and thought I could change the world.  I was going to ‘save’ everyone.  I had (and still do) the purest of intentions.  These people (offenders) needed me (or someone of the equivalent).  Their tears were genuine.  Their life was a mess.  I would work endlessly to assist them in ridding them of their problems.  Never really ever knowing what the ‘end all’ would be, but clearly seeing that something had to be done.  Anything.  To my dismay, all too often, I would see these same people back in jail after only a short time post their release.

Throughout the years I have: written grants, built community relationships, created budget amendments, facilitated groups, provided case management planning, used evidence-based tools, worked with offenders to heal their relationships with their loved ones, learned about trauma and the brain, addiction, … and I have one conclusion:  It isn’t easy.  The same people keep going back to jail.

I understand the challenge of building a program while maintaining it.  It is not easy.  Infact, it is quite exhausting and overwhelming.  There are so many problems.  You always need to be a step ahead, which is hard to manage when it is your first experience.  I feel like this is a micro snapshot to the larger picture:  the need to change the criminal justice system, while we still need to be able to use it.  There is no easy answer.

Richmond City Jail’s Overcrowding Issue



The link above is a short news clip describing the status of the new Richmond City Jail. The fact that it will be overcrowded the day it opens makes it all the more a reality that we have a societal issue here.  Program development is hard.  There is a lot to look at in the development of a new program or creating guidelines for alternative sentencing.  This reminds me of the class discussion a couple of weeks ago when Dr. McLeod said, “the issues being addressed in your projects are not singular issues.”  He is right.  They are huge issues.  Each one is entangled in a myriad of many other.  The overcrowding of the current jail is certainly a concern; there have been many deaths and the conditions invite much to be desired.  Yet, the new multi-million dollar structure does not solve the fact that a large percentage of their population are recidivist.  Every jurisdiction is different and the vast underlying issues that keep people in the cycle of the criminal justice system are daunting to address.  Why do people keep going back to a place they hate so much?  What is effective programming?  How can we ever afford the resources needed to address the issue at its core, rather than supporting the cycle of such an expensive and miserable way of life.  To say the least,  the City of Richmond has their work cut out for them.

Woman who turned to drugs after mother’s death convicted of robbing 4 banks – Richmond Times Dispatch: Latest News

Woman who turned to drugs after mother’s death convicted of robbing 4 banks – Richmond Times Dispatch: Latest News.

People are hurting.  They are really hurting.  They do desperate things, and in return, people are made to be victims.  Think of the ripple effect of this one women’s pain: for the people who experienced the robberies – they will never resume the sense of safety they had previously known, for the women’s children – they just lost their grandmother and will now watch their own mother go to prison, and for the women’s grandchildren – who will now live their life without their grandmother as she serves her sentence, and for the taxpayers – who will pay for her every need between the start and end of her sentence.

The article discusses the remorse she had been feeling for her crimes prior to being caught.  I would think by now this stuff wouldn’t phase me, but I continue to be appalled by how far people will go.  People are hurting.