Image courtesy jjie.org

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

According to educator and author, David Chura, advocating for prison reform does not mean “soft on crime.” What it does mean is people who can see the truth are tired of watching the prison system working against crime and safety.

When Chura and other prison reform advocates propose approaches to lower the recidivism rate, they are met with disapproval from skeptics who are not seeing the whole picture. They are being accused of being bleeding hearts that care more about criminals than the safety of society.

Nothing could be further from the truth.    

When Chura writes or gives lectures about his work with minors in prison and describes the dreadful conditions inside prison, he is accused of caring too much about the comfort of inmates and not caring about victims of crime.  

What the general public does not understand is that the general devastated state of the prison system has a profound negative impact on everyone. Inmates who are not rehabilitated end up reoffending, making citizens vulnerable to crime. Correctional officers are working in deplorable conditions that are detrimental to their mental health. Victims of crime are not safe when offenders are not properly rehabilitated and held accountable, and taxpayers are paying for punitive correctional practices that are not working.    

The current condition of American prisons do not foster restoration and community safety. Anyone who spends time in an environment that breeds violence is not going to be fit for society. Added to that, many inmates return to society with anger about the inappropriate lengthy time they spent behind bars for non-violent crimes.  Worse yet, innocent people spend decades incarcerated for crimes they did not commit because of incompetent law enforcement, competitive prosecutors, accepting bogus plea-bargains or standing up for the truth and refusing to plea out.      

All of these people, innocent or not, live needlessly in a toxic, overcrowded environment with the smell of clogged plumbing, body odor, and constant shrieking noises. All inmates whether they committed a heinous crime or a minor crime reside under the constant threat of violence and intimidation. The rule “trust no one” is staunchly followed in order to survive the unpredictable setting of prison. If you let your guard down or don’t follow the rules, a small infraction can land any inmate in solitary confinement for months or even decades.

How can anyone justify that inmates are “getting what they deserve” looking objectively at the way the system operates? If you can see through a clear lens — clear of judgmental debris, how can anyone believe a system that cultivates fear, hostility, and hopelessness can prevent crime? 

The whole situation will continue to be a vicious circle unless everyone gets on board the prison transformation band wagon.

Criminals are not the only victims. Victims of crime are reproduced and continue to suffer when non-rehabilitated offenders are set free to reoffend. Communities are re-victimized and no one feels safe.

Children sentenced as adults and detained in adult prisons compound the problem. Thirty-four percent (34%) more of juvenile offenders who serve time in adult prisons not only return to society more violent than when they went into prison, but are more likely to offend than their peers that remain in the juvenile system.

Recreating a system that is putting everyone in jeopardy is not being “soft on crime”—– it is practical.  

Fixing a broken system does not mean giving inmates “warm fuzzies” and making them more comfortable. The common sense solution is to educate offenders and provide them with skills that will enable strong productive citizens. Reentry programs that support ex-offenders to stay on the straight and narrow road are what is going to keep communities safe rather than a system based on retribution and “it serves them right.”

Financial cynics may complain, but they need to weigh the benefits with the damage that has been going on for too long.

Chura responds to his critics by gently reminding them, “You can call it soft. I call it the only way.”

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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