We have a major problem in our justice system when it comes to imprisonment. Our current system isn’t set up in a way to reduce recidivism. Instead, we’re seeing overcrowding and alarming rates at which people become re-offenders. It’s time for prison reform.
Prison reform is the term that’s used to cover a few changes that are needed in the criminal justice system. Let’s take a minute to look at some of the numbers.
Did you know that there are “more than 1.5 million people” in prison right now? Were you also aware that over 80% of those who are released end up reoffending? These numbers aren’t helping anyone. When we have too many people in prisons they become overcrowded, expensive and ineffective. When we have more crimes being committed because of reoffenses it doesn’t help the public or those being arrested. The current rate of imprisonment isn’t good for anyone involved. That’s why we need a substantial overhaul of the system.
There are a few essential things we need to do in order to make the prison system more conducive to help offenders avoid reoffending and live a better life. This isn’t just better for those getting arrested, but also their loved ones and the community as a whole.
One of the things we need to do is offer more programs to help those who are incarcerated. There should be more educational programs, mental health programs, rehabilitation programs for those who suffer from substance abuse and religious programs.
If the prison can’t afford to offer these programs directly, there’s another option. Prisons and jails should partner with nonprofits who offer these programs. There are actually a few non-profits already doing this, including The Last Mile, Hudson Link and Miles of Freedom.
In addition to offering more programs and preparing inmates for re-entry into society, we need to make sure it’s easy for incarcerated people to connect with their friends and family members.
One of the issues with prisons is that when a person is being sentenced, the location of their family doesn’t come into play like it should. If they are in a state prison far from their family, they will be less likely to get visitors. In fact, according to research, only 31% of those in state prisons actually received visits during a single month. Getting visitors can help inmates stay more positive and increase their likelihood of success upon reentry. It may also help them stay out of trouble while in jail because they have these positive connections.
We also need to reconsider what we call a criminal offense. Some non-violent drug offenses, for example, require minimum sentencing, not allowing for much give. Decriminalizing many of these drug offenses could help us reduce the number of incarcerated individuals and give judges more ability to sentence as they see fit, instead of being required to give at least the minimum sentencing.
Our system is not designed to help people get second chances. Many laws make it difficult for those with a criminal history to get jobs and housing. In fact, research shows that an astounding number of inmates –– approximately 74% –– were unable to find work even after being out of jail for eight months. Things need to change in order to allow these people a chance to find work and affordable housing. If we make it too difficult for those in reentry to thrive, they’ll be more likely to re-offend, feeling distraught and desperate.
The good news is, if we make a commitment to make changes in our justice system, we could see these numbers change. We could see more people thriving after being in prison. We could see fewer people in prison and even lower crime rates. Prison reform is backed by evidence. Just look at these statistics:
- Mental health support in prison was found to reduce misconduct incidents by 22 percent.
- Substance abuse treatment in one California prison resulted in a 48 percent reduction in reincarceration.
- One holistic faith-based program reduced future reincarceration by 40 percent for those who graduated from the program.”
It’s time for America to take prison reform seriously. Change is needed if we’re going to upgrade the current system, increase community safety and improve the lives of those incarcerated.