Very honored to have an op-ed in today’s AZ Republic. Here is the link. Below is the essay. We need to reinvent the system, especially reentry. Wherever you live, please tell your state Senator to support the Prison Reform Act. We cannot continue living with such a failed system. Thank you.
My Turn: If someone had told me what I would see and experience in prison, I would have said, "Not in our country." If…www.azcentral.com
My Turn: Reinventing the criminal-justice system
My Turn: If someone had told me what I would see and experience in prison, I would have said, “Not in our country.”
If 60 percent of a company’s products were faulty, would the board of directors allow it to stay in business? Obviously not. So why do we as a nation continue to fund a criminal-justice system that has the same success rate?
The U.S. Department of Justice found that about two-thirds of individuals released from prison re-offend within three years. Prisons are called departments of correction, but we face a world in which little has changed in 50 years and not much correction is taking place.
Ninety-three percent of all inmates, regardless of their security level, will eventually be released, some directly from solitary confinement. Despite this fact, little is done to prepare those inmates for the world they will re-enter.
MY TURN: Why we’re giving women inmates a ‘fresh start’
When I got out, I faced my humiliation head on by immediately telling people where I’d been. But the stigma society places on convicted felons never ends. It’s a civic death.
Job application? Check the box.
Respectable apartment complex? Check the box.
Volunteer application to give back to my community? Check the box.
In a country that promotes family values, we are tearing families apart — a consequence more severe than our nation’s $80 billion annual prison budget. According to Child Trends, one in 14 American children has or has had a parent in prison, and in Arizona, it’s one in nine. These numbers are unacceptable.
If someone had told me what I would see and experience in prison, I would have said, “Not in our country. We don’t treat people that way.” I was wrong; we do. I’ve seen how the conditions of confinement lead to the reality of recidivism. Upon release, we are faced with choices and obstacles that are overwhelming. To put it bluntly, getting out of prison is like being shot out of a cannon blindfolded and naked into a brick wall.
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We must reinvent the system by creating a bipartisan response that invites collaboration between individuals in business, social work, academia, justice and the population of former prisoners.
Currently, there is an opportunity to enact on a federal level a few of these reforms. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, a U.S. Senate bill, would expand recidivism-prevention programs in federal prisons, offering rehabilitation services to many more incarcerated individuals than currently have access to such opportunities.
This bill would also reform mandatory-minimum-sentencing requirements, another outdated and ineffective feature of our criminal-justice system — many individuals are incarcerated, sometimes for decades, for non-violent offenses, drastically reducing their ability to successfully re-integrate upon release.
One of our Arizona Senators, Jeff Flake, has shown promising leadership on this issue as one of the co-sponsors of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act in 2015.
This bill has been gaining bipartisan support, most recently during its passage through the Senate Judiciary Committee, when several Senate Republicans lent their support following the addition of amendments enhancing the bill’s public-safety provisions. We now need Sen. John McCain to join this growing bipartisan coalition that recognizes the urgent need for criminal-justice reform.
Our prison system doesn’t just need to be reformed, it needs to be reinvented. But change doesn’t happen overnight. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a step in the right direction, and our federal legislators must join the movement for reform.
Sue Ellen Allen is the founder of Reinventing Reentry, co-founder of Gina’s Team, and the author of The Slumber Party from Hell, a view of life in prison.