WHAT WE DO
THE PROBLEMWe’ve Got Problems
Our country has a prison problem. One out of 100 Americans is in jail or prison today—a total population of 2.3 million, which is equivalent to the size of Houston. One out of 15 Americans will go to jail or prison in his lifetime. In 2007, Americans spent $49 billion on the incarcerated, which averages an annual expense of $21K per inmate. When $1 out of every $15 of state budget funds is relegated to corrections, other budgetary needs (i.e. education, transportation, etc.) are squeezed out.
For many, prison is “out of sight, out of mind.” But it becomes everyone’s problem when prisons continue to bloat with repeat “customers” who understand their role in society—steal, kill and hustle. For those who would rather focus on preventing crime by working with at-risk populations who have never committed a crime, consider this: prisons are the largest concentrated pools of future criminals. That’s a conversation starter for real crime prevention solutions.
Round and Round
Prison life is cyclical. Studies show that felons are bred from below the poverty lines, broken homes and poor education systems rife with drug and alcohol abuse. The economic benefits of crime, for many, provide a temporary leap out of the ghetto. But instead of offering criminals a lasting solution for a better lifestyle and greater opportunity, it lands them in prison—multiple times. For those with substance abuse issues, prison is merely a temporary detox tank between addictions.
“It’s far better for our society if we can get rid of the drug habit than if they just serve a short period of incarceration and go back to drugs after they come out.”Recidivism is defined as a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior; especially relapse into criminal behavior. The national recidivism rate is above 60% (conservatively), which tells us this: we need to rethink prison as punishment and begin to utilize it as a place to the end the wicked cycle of crime and addiction. The bottom line is prison has turned into a college for criminals, with felons leaving in worse shape than when they arrived. In an attempt to enact punishment on criminals, we’ve created a dull but comfortable holding tank where rehabilitation is more goal than reality.
America Hates Felons
Contributing to the malaise of recidivism is societal discrimination. The idea of convicted felons applying for legit work can seem like a joke—selling crack is simple and earns them exponentially more cash than mowing lawns. For the typical felon, freedom is more difficult to manage than prison. Not only do they have to overcome the temptation of a previous lifestyle, but also endure society’s cold shoulder. It turns out that the land of the “second chance” is really the land of “you made your bed, now lie in it.”
“We know from long experience that if [former prisoners] can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit more crimes and return to prison …. America is the land of the second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”We have created an insurmountable obstacle by branding them with permanent labels—felon, former felon, convict, ex-con, ex-offender, criminal. Imagine being required to list at the top of every job application the worst thing you have ever done in your life—and that became your permanent label: liar, adulterer, thief. Often the difference between an everyday citizen and a felon is one poor decision or whether they were caught. Yet forgiveness and a chance at redemption are taken from the table. All we offer is a hellish environment where they are free to hone their hatred, prejudices and criminal wares. Then we close every door of opportunity to them once they are released.
We have a prison problem. What are you going to do about it?