“Our role is not to punish. The punishment is the prison sentence: they have been deprived of their freedom. The punishment is that they are with us,” says Nils Öberg, director-general of Sweden’s prison and probation service.
The United States prison system is widely regarded as broken. Prisons were supposed to “rehabilitate” offenders who have wronged society by punishing them with a prison sentence. Unfortunately, the United States prison system has failed to rehabilitate thus producing high recidivism rates and overall crime. In Sweden, they are testing a new approach to crime. Oberg, the director-general, believes in addressing the inmate’s needs in order for he or she to correct the behavior that led them to prison in the first place. Sweden’s prison rates are significantly lower after they implemented this approach. They’ve also been fortunate enough to actually close prisons because of the lowered crime rate.
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It seems as if criminal justice reform has been a mainstream topic since the 1970’s, but continuously we see prison reforms being halted or ignored by congress. The “tough on crime” approach was of major attention when New York City promised to harshly tackle the issue, but now that talk of reforming has taken place, the actual chance to take action on it seems to be absent from campaigns and ballots. Why? Well, most people pay attention to the problem of crime and then demand change, not the problems affecting criminals. However, as the article points out, America wears a scarlet letter of mass incarceration, which is an embarrassment for our country. And with so many people being affected by prison sentences, more people should be demanding change for the current system. Just because the crimes are happening behind prison walls doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye. In fact, the author suggests, by reforming the criminal justice system, we will see a positive change in other areas, most notably, the economic inequality gap.
New documetary film “The Throwaways” follows Ira McKinley, a filmmaker and ex-convcit, as he guides viewers through nearly empty city of Albany, New York while shedding light on the prison and police problems that have plagued marginalized populations for years. Ira McKinley describes his life before prison, explaining that his father was shot and killed by cops when he was just 14 and he quickly became “addicted to the life.” To support his new lifestyle, including a crack habit, he began robbing stores which ultimately landed him in prison until 2002. After he was released, he describes how hard it was for him to re-enter society as an ex convict, deeming himself a “marked” citizen. Ira McKinley bravely takes viewers into a world of racial profiling, which he refers to as “The New Jim Crow,” based on the book by Michelle Alexander, mass incarceration, and the slow death of once heavily populated, black communities.
Click here to watch the interview or read the full article.
Click here to learn more about Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
Click here for “The Throwaways” documenary website.
“People talk about the euphoria you feel about getting out,” he said. “I didn’t feel anything like that. I was scared to death and I certainly wasn’t happy. You don’t spend three decades in an eight-by-sixteen foot cell and then come out and expect to live a normal life. You become acclimated to prison life and get institutionalized” -Lawrence White, also pictured below, a released prisoner who served 30 years.
The quote above, said by Lawrence White, accurately explains the difficulty of adjusting to freedom after having spent so many years behind bars. Many people who are released from prison do not receive the reentry help and up to date information that is needed for them to survive in a new day and age. After living in a controlled and secluded facility for a majority of their life, many inmates, such as Lawrence White mentioned above, forget how to live independently and without being told what to do. The abrupt push into the free world is only the beginning of inevitable difficulties for all inmates, but it may be even harder for those who are aged 50 and older and have spent a majority of their life in prison. Finding a home, apartment or an assisted living facility that is willing to take ex felons, a job that doesn’t require daily lifting of heavy weights (construction and foodservice jobs are the most commonly available to ex prisoners), medical care and with that the ability to pay for it via healthcare, etc., are just a few of the uphill battles for the aged inmates. For those who lose the battle, many end up homeless or in cramped, illegal living spaces, and begging on the street. Fortunately though, there are programs that are dedicated to helping aging prisoners adjust to society and ensuring they receive the proper care and resources they need. Click here to read the full article.
If you’ve been reading the PLAP blog regularly, then you’ll remember the post titled “Mothering Between a Rock and a Hard Place” that told the story of Shanesha Taylor and her struggle as a poor, single mother. Well, today I learned that Shanesha Taylor has been awarded custody of her children again! Shanesha’s children were taken by Child Protective Services following the charges of child abuse for leaving her two youngest children in a car while she went for a job interview. Fortunately, the incredible support Shanesha received from the public was enough to influence the courts. It’s about time poverty stricken single mothers are given a voice, a chance, and a change.
Change starts on the ground level! Stand up for justice!
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