Just Mercy

MONDAY BOOK REVIEW

“Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), has been called America’s Mandela and after reading this book I think that is fitting. The book has been awarded many honors and is a #1 New York Times bestseller.

Stevenson, a lawyer, has spent his entire professional career representing those who had no one else to defend them. He and staff at the EJI took on the cases of individuals who had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole as children. He defended the innocent on death row. Many of his clients were people of color, all were in poverty and could not afford legal fees.

The book is chocked full of individual cases, but one is followed in detail, that of Walter McMillian. McMillian was arrested for a murder that he was in no way connected to and spent years on death row before Stevenson managed to win his release. All the court proceedings along with the obvious prejudices against this black man are very enlightening.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a just Justice System for all citizens of this country.

Please read about the Equal Justice Initiative at https://eji.org You will find it very interesting.

Corrections 3

Murder

I ask you to think about this terrible word, one that strikes fear in most of us. Can you imagine living near a murderer? What about having a person convicted of murder as a friend or family member? Should those who have committed murder ever get out of prison? Should they even be allowed to live? Can a person who has committed murder ever be a worthwhile citizen?

These are serious questions and ones we casually ponder at different points in our lives. It might be when a well-publicized murder takes place or when the circumstances are more unforgettable or perhaps when it has been geographically close to us. Today when probably none of those situations are present, let’s answer the hard questions.

  1. Do you support Capital punishment? I never have. During my studies of the criminal justice system over the past several weeks I did not change my mind on this matter.
  2. Do you believe in a sentence of life without the possibility of parole? As a result of these classes, reading, and research, I have changed my mind and no longer believe that this should be a punishment. If there is no incentive for release where is the incentive for rehabilitation? It’s not “corrections.” It’s not “criminal justice.” It is simply punishment.

3. Have you ever been mad or afraid enough to take the life of another person? I cannot say that I have, but I can imagine how this happens. I believe that a good person can do terrible things under certain circumstances and that they, even murderers, can change. It is worth noting that murder has one of the lowest recidivism rates of all crime categories.

I’m not going to go into great detail, but one day in class two men who had been convicted of murder were our guest speakers. Each had committed their crime while very young and each served over twenty years before receiving parole. Both concentrated on getting an education while in prison and they have used those degrees to find work since released. What’s more, both work now to help others in the prison system and their families. They spoke of their crimes, took full responsibility and voiced their regret. I would welcome either as next door neighbors.

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“Why do we incarcerate? Are we afraid or angry?”  Mark Bolton, Corrections Director, Louisville, KY

The SOURCE of most of the information of the past two posts is a class at Bellarmine University taught by Gaye Holman, Author, “Decades Behind Bars: A Twenty-year Conversation with Men in America’s Prisons.” Today’s post is mostly my personal opinion. 

Photo and Graphic by Pixabay

Corrections 2

Recidivism

Can people change? Experience shows that people can and do change and that formal education is one of the most effective means. In 2011, in KY 1,151 inmates attained their GED in prison while in 2015 that total was down to 126. The difference? As the number of inmates goes up so do costs and education funds are one of the first cut. This is unfortunate considering that statistics show that 5.6% of inmates with a Bachelor’s degree re-offend and 0% of those with a Masters. 

According to a psychologist who works with inmates in KY, other keys to reducing recidivism are family support and treatment for addiction. Families tend to drift away after the first year or two and by the third year, few inmates have visits or any contact with their family. 

Is the justice system just?

“No” is the easy answer. In the general population 86% is white and 11% are black and brown. In prison 64% of the population is white and 34% are people of color.

If the goal was truly to rehabilitate and reduce recidivism would prisoners be released without any money, ID, phone or often even a place to stay? 

Parole

Here’s a case history: WRS, a graduate of Seneca HS in Louisville was 21 when he committed a few robberies and one assault. When he was caught he had an empty gun on his person. He waived a plea bargain of eight years to have his day in court.  He was sentenced to 317 years in prison. Now 29 years later WRS has been turned down for parole four times in spite of a good record in prison. The cost of his incarceration is now over $800,000 and that amount gets higher the older an inmate becomes.

Is this a good investment of taxpayer dollars? Is the fact that WRS is African-American a consideration?

NOTE: In KY Parole Board Members (9) are appointed and must have at least five years experience in Criminal Justice work. Members are paid $1,000 per year. They have few or no policies to follow. For lower level offenses they do not see the inmate in person but review their file. The Board files no monthly or annual reports. Most cases are reviewed by only 3 Board Members. (Per Larry Chandler former Board Member.)

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“Poor people, people of color – especially are much more likely to be found in prison than in institutions of higher education.” Angela Davis

SOURCE of most of this information is a class at Bellarmine University taught by Gaye Holman, Author, “Decades Behind Bars: A Twenty-year Conversation with Men in America’s Prisons.”

Photo and Graphic by Pixabay

Corrections

United States

There are over 2,000,000 people incarcerated in the US. This country has 5% of the earth’s population but 25% of those incarcerated. At least 2,500 children under the age of eighteen are in prison for life without the possibility of parole. 

Kentucky

Kentucky is seventh in the US for the number of people in prison. Thirteen percent of children in KY have a parent incarcerated compared to the national average of 7%. At this time there are  24,000 inmates in thirteen prisons, one which is privately run. The annual cost per prisoner is $25,594.

Of note, from 1985 to 2015 the overall crime rate declined by 19 percent, but during that same 30-year period the number of prisoners rose by 271 percent!

DOC

It’s called Department of Corrections, but is that a misnomer? Can we say there is “correction” when the recidivism rate is 35-40% and by the ninth year as high as 80%?

Purpose

What is the purpose of locking people in prison for years? Four possible motives for incarceration include:

  1. Retribution and punishment
  2. Incapacitation
  3. Deterrence
  4. Rehabilitation

If #1 how long is long enough? For #2 being locked away is the only answer. Number three indicates that the threat of prison prevents crime, but if that is so why do we have more people in prison than ever before? How much rehabilitation (#4) actually happens in prison? How does it happen?

It is easy to take imprisonment for granted. People commit crimes. People pay. It is not that simple. Each case, judge, jury and parole board is different. There is no “one size fits all” in corrections. 

We will discuss this subject further in the next posts.     

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“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.” George W. Bush

 

The SOURCE of most of this information is a class at Bellarmine University taught by Gaye Holman, Author, “Decades Behind Bars: A Twenty-year Conversation with Men in America’s Prisons.”

Photo and Graphic by Pixabay