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Dostoevsky wrote, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
The spirit behind writing this book was to take you, the reader, to the other side of the walls of our jails. To show you, the reader, what I have seen over the last 30 years; you will be amazed. By changing the climate of incarceration by replacing punishment for its own sake with offender accountability, the voice of the survivors of crime and community involvement can enhance our civilization. But by doing business as usual, our civilized society is in jeopardy.
For 150 years we’ve been doing virtually the same thing over and over again with matters of crime and punishment. A person commits a crime and he or she is locked up, put in a cell, pod or dorm where he or she sleeps most of the day (with one eye open), plays dominos and cards, watches TV, mostly cartoons, pumps iron, and has a lot of time on his or her hands to learn the lay of the land with 60-70 other inmates on the tier. This usually translates to the lowest common denominator of human existence.
As Albert Camus wrote, “Don’t say to the man condemn to death that he’s paying his debt to society, rather say: we are chopping his head off. It may seem like a little thing, but it makes a difference.” Am I advocating the death penalty? –NO! Rather let’s just tell it like it is: being in jail or prison does not make you a better person, and it certainly doesn’t deter crime.
As we sit and speak there are approximately 2.3 million people locked up. Adding up all probationers and parolees, prisoners and jail inmates (about 5 million), there are more than 7.3 million adults under some form of correctional control.
That whopping figure is exceeds the populations of Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego and Dallas put together, and is larger than the populations of 38 states and the District of Columbia.
During Ronald Reagan’s first term as president, 1 in every 77 adults was under the control of the correctional system in the United States. Now, 25 years later, it is 1 in 31, or 3.2 percent of all adults.
JAIL POPULATION 780,581
PROBATION POPULATION 4,293,163
PAROLE POPULATION 824,365
CORRECTIONAL POPULATION 7,328,200
ADULT POPULATION 229,030,637
One in every 31 U.S. adults is under correctional control.
Depending on the jurisdiction, we pay 30 to 80 thousand dollars to house one prisoner for one year; another kicker is that recidivism rates hover somewhere around 70 percent. I haven’t even mentioned the MILLIONS WHO HAVE BEEN VICTIMIZED BY VIOLENCE AND OTHER CRIME. The human and material cost cracks the sky. “There is no other business in the world,” one corporate attorney told me, “that gets an increase in their budget when they have a seventy percent failure rate.”
But this is not another doom and gloom commentary about how our criminal justice system is broken and can’t be fixed. There is also promising news, as this book and the excerpts that I will share with you will show you, when we provide solid opportunity and invest in people’s success, an exquisite triumph of the spirit can occur.