The USA is truly an incredible place to live, and yet it is not perfect. One of the things that needs to change is the penal system. We are a country based on freedom, and yet ironically, we are one of the most incarcerated people in the world.
Corrections (which includes prisons, jails, probation, and parole) cost around $74 billion in 2007 according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. In 2016, the Prison Policy Initiative estimated that in the United States, about 2,298,300 people were incarcerated out of a population of 323.1 million.
Jack Nicholson had a memorable line in the movie A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth.” We have a problem and it is not going to change without fixing the root issue. We seem to be very efficient in punishing people but not so good at helping rehabilitate them and addressing the cause.
A Bureau of Justice Statistic study found inmates released from state prisons have a five-year re-arrest rate of 76.6%. A USSC study calculated comparable federal prisoners released have a 44.7% re-arrest rate after five years. How is that even possible? Those are grim figures that should wake you up whether you are in prison or you are free. Our prisons have revolving doors.
I don’t have any quick fixes, but simple observations. People in jail or prison need to know that somebody cares about them. Well, if you are reading this, I am that somebody. I care, my wife cares, and God cares. There are many people outside the walls who care for you (even if you don’t know them).
What can we do as a society to change this problem?
- Fix the family. Broken homes often are a statistic associated with incarceration. Having a stable family unit is a step in the right direction.
- Racism has to be addressed. We all bleed red, yet for some reason there are those who look at people different from them as somehow less than them.
- People who are free should never take their freedom for granted. It can be taken away in a heartbeat with one stupid mistake (as I am sure many who are behind bars can attest to).
- Stay in touch with the people you know who have been incarcerated and let them know you love them and are there for them. Do what you can to help them, encourage them, and just be there for them.
- Help those who are released to find meaningful employment. If they can’t find a job, what do you think is likely to happen?
- We all need heart surgery. Everyone has the same issue. Make sure you have a right relationship with God first and foremost, then work on loving others, regardless of how they look or what they have done.
- Forgive everyone. Yes, we have to reap the consequences of our actions, but everyone deserves to be forgiven and given another chance. Forgive everyone, including yourself. Give people the opportunity to succeed. Failure is only fatal if we give up on life itself.
- There is a proverb that says: Evil company corrupts. That holds true whether you are free or not. The people that you hang out with on a regular basis are inevitably a reflection of who you are. Choose your friends wisely.
I hope you don’t just read this and forget about it. We each have to do our part to change society for the better. I am asking everyone who reads this to do what they can…the best that they can to make this country an even better place to live for us and future generations.