By editorial board • 

‘Lock ‘em up’ just fills pen on our dime

Prison reform advocate Jodi Hansen of Newberg says asking repeat offenders to play by the rules is like handing them a violin and expecting them to perform a concerto.

If any career criminals out there want violin music, listen up: Here’s the world’s smallest violin playing “Our Hearts Bleed for You.”

This is how the system works, punks. If you fail to obey the law, you get tossed in the pokey.

 Once you get out, you fly right or get tossed right back. You want to “improve” the system? Build more prisons.

Not really.

That’s the Dirty Harry School of Corrections, which may be viscerally satisfying, but only works in the movies. In the real world, it is badly flawed.

Hansen, founder and executive director of Remnant Initiatives, is right. America faces an incarceration crisis.

At least 655 Americans per 100,000 were behind bars in 2016, the highest percentage in the world.

Compare that with Canada’s 114 inmates per 100,000 or Great Britain’s 146. Either America is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, or something about our “lock ‘em up” philosophy falls short of actually making society safer.

The system is also notoriously unbalanced.

 African Americans are imprisoned at more than five times the rate of whites. In fact, if African Americans and Latinos were imprisoned at the same rates as whites, the American incarceration rate would plummet by almost 40%.

The reasons behind this are legion, starting with our assumption that people who find themselves in prison are “bad guys,” while ignoring social inequity, poverty and other factors that result in criminal behavior. We might also want to reconsider the ravages of the war on drugs as well, but let’s save that subject for another time.

While examining these foundational issues, what we can do immediately is heed the wisdom of Hansen and others who witness the problem at the street level. We cannot pluck people from dysfunctional environments, imprison them in another dysfunctional place and then return them to Square One with a reasonable expectation they will be able to turn their lives around.

They need the education, resources and assistance that the overwhelmed criminal justice system seems woefully deficient in providing. Nonprofits such as Remnant Initiatives should be applauded and supported rather than dismissed as the work of “bleeding hearts” and “do-gooders.”

Conservative voices call for building more prisons and even placing them under private control. That would be disastrous. It would serve only to further erode public safety.

America must join the rest of the world in approaching crime with logic rather than ire. Anger fights, but intelligence wins.

 

 

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