Prison Reform and Redemption Act offers hope for former prisoners
This article by Right on Crime signatory and member of the Executive Committee of the Council for National Policy, Rebecca Hagelin, originally appeared in The Washington Times April 22nd, 2018.
Most Americans don’t like to think about our prisons or the people they confine.
Oh, we’re glad criminals got what was coming to them. But once they’re out of sight, we prefer to keep them out of mind.
Whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, an independent or whatever, it’s important to examine the facts to determine if America’s prison system is serving you as a law-abiding citizen.
Here’s a snapshot: Of the nearly 2 million people currently locked up in a federal or state prison, 95 percent of them eventually will be released. About 650,000 ex-convicts hit the streets every year.
Of those 650,000 former prisoners, statistics show that within three years, two-thirds of them will be arrested for another crime. And that means there will be an entirely new slew of victims.
This snapshot of our departments of “corrections” is more like a horror movie that never ends. Society isn’t protected, tax dollars are wasted and the guilty are punished but largely not “corrected.”
This churning of human lives and crime is never ending. Day after day, year after year, prison continues to be a place where anger, hopelessness and crime fester.
While the bad actors are locked away behind cement walls and barbed wire fences, we imagine that our families are safe. But we only fool ourselves.
The reality is that most of those released from prison return to society in worse shape than when they were sentenced. Far too many don’t have families or homes to go to. They have no skills to offer. They face legal impediments in obtaining business or driver’s licenses, and aren’t equipped for the workforce. So they do what they know: commit crimes.
And far too many who are addicted to drugs when they enter prison are still addicted upon release, their lives wasting away as they are trapped in the downward spiral of human despair. The vicious cycle is never ending, creating more victims with each passing day.
But we can stop the churning.
Instead of warehousing criminals, relegating them to endless hours of watching television or arts-and-crafts classes, what if we used that time to teach them useful trades? Or taught them how to be ready to obtain and hold a job? Or treated their substance addictions and negative behaviors?
Thank God, a coalition of people from across the ideological spectrum have set their differences aside to focus on what should unify all of us: turning our prisons into places of effective punishment and correction.
This week, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to mark up what’s called the Prison Reform and Redemption Act, modeled after the successful prison reforms instituted in Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas, among others.
In Texas, crime rates have fallen by a whopping 31 percent since such reforms have been instituted, according to The Texas Policy Foundation and official state data. Texas now has 20 percent fewer prisoners and eight fewer state prisons, and has saved more than $2 billion. There are also more ex-convicts now living as law-abiding citizens, holding steady jobs and contributing to the society they once leeched off of. And most important, Texas has fewer victims.
It’s time to strengthen job training, addiction treatment, education and other re-entry programs on the federal level too.
Sponsored by Reps. Doug Collins, Georgia Republican, and Hakeem Jeffries, New York Democrat, the Prison Reform and Redemption Act is supported by an unlikely coalition that includes Van Jones, Jim DeMint and Jared Kushner.
Entities as varied as Right on Crime, The Alliance for Safety and Justice, FreedomWorks, and the White House have linked arms to advocate for prison reform that works.
We know that offenders who have “done their time” can be productive, tax-paying citizens rather than people who continue to prey on others. Redemption, restoration and restitution are possible when we value and provide the framework for them to exist.
There is much work that needs to be done on the larger issue of reforming America’s criminal justice system, and there is much debate on how best to do it. The Collins-Jeffries bill addresses the prison reform aspect of our broken federal system head-on, and it is critical that leaders from both sides of the aisle continue to work together to pass national legislation based on state programs that we know work.
It’s “criminal” for federal prisons to continue to churn out massive numbers of ex-convicts who will offend again, when it has been proven that prisons can be the institutions for correction that they are supposed to be.