“County prison inmates released: About 100 out in bid to trim population.”
As I often do, I wrote to a letter of response:
As a community leader, I commend the Prison Board, warden and staff, and the Adult Probation & Parole officials for finding alternatives to prison for non-violent inmates. The circumstance in the Lancaster Prison are not exceptional. With more citizens incarcerated than any other nation, overcrowded prisons in America are straining State budgets and simply unable to sustain the current flow of new prisoners.
One out of every 100 Americans lives behind bars. Based on Justice Department figures within the decade, one in 36 Hispanic adults and one in 15 black adults is behind bars (including one in 9 black men between the ages of 20 and 34). A report from the Pew Center found that one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 and that one in 100 black women are behind bars.
Each year, at least 700,000 prisoners are released and returned to our communities. “More than five million people are under community supervision — either probation or parole — on any given day in the United States. Success rates among these offenders are not high: more than 40 percent of probationers and more than half of parolees do not complete their supervision terms successfully. In fact, parole violators account for almost 35 percent of admissions to state prisons, and nearly half of local jail inmates were on probation or parole when they were arrested.”(The Pew Charitable Trusts)
Many people view prison as a place to put people for protecting society, but, as recidivism rates show, protection of public safety requires more than simply putting criminals out of sight for a period of time. Yet the strains of overcrowding make it exceptionally difficult for prison staff to give attention to reforming individual prisoners. While I realize that prison is a punishment and sometimes sufficient to awaken criminals to the error of their ways, I agree with Judge Dennis Reinaker that we must look for better solutions to the problem of overcrowded prisons.
There are no easy answers but far too often crisis intervention exhausts the resources that could be aimed at prevention. As we approach father’s day, we have a moment to consider one of the primary needs of prevention — faithful fathers. And church leaders should use their voice for turning “the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6).
Churches are uniquely positioned to fulfill preventive roles by strengthening marriages and families. It’s not surprising that the growth of our prison crisis follows a precise track with the disintegration of the family in our nation. As Churches commit themselves to building strong homes—especially promoting intentional fatherhood, communities will experience important preventative benefits.