By Christopher Zoukis
During my down time over the holiday season, I created a wish list for Santa that would make 2016 a pretty amazing year in many different ways.
As a longtime advocate for prison education and related justice issues, I’ve had plenty of time during my nine years of incarceration at FCC Petersburg in Virginia, to explore what topics are most pressing in America today.
Sadly, there is no shortage of issues in dire need of resolution. There’s no magic pill, no easy answer, but the evidence is clear that education alone is critical to fixing our broken judicial system.
What I’ve included in my list are not ‘pie-in-the sky’ hopes, but issues I believe can become reality if fellow justice groups, my supporters and other organizations work together. Let’s hope that 2016 brings needed change on all of these fronts. My wish list to Santa includes:
1. That President Barack Obama continues the sentence commutations of prisoners that began late last month. As these were for minor drug infractions, we all know inmates are better are treated for substance issues in the community than behind bars.
2. Stop the privatization of American prisons at the local, state and national level. The U.S. government needs to deal with overcrowding by eliminating its antiquated Three Strikes Law. Thanks to groups like The Abolitionists Law Centre and The Sentencing Project for taking on this important fight.
3. For the University of California to move forward with its announcement it will no longer invest in private prison companies such as GEO Group Inc., 4S and the Corrections Corporation of Canada. I hope other universities will follow suit.
4. Prisoners, like anyone on the outside, need access to books and other reading material. A shout-out to the many organizations that work to get them into our hands including the Prison Book Program, Incarcerated Nation, Prison Reform Movement, Books to Prisoners and BooksThroughBarsNYC.
5. I hope more states will eventually join the movement to ban what even the United Nations condemns – capital punishment. Thanks to The Innocence Project, Death Penalty News, Death Penalty Info Centre and OK Innocence Project for pushing to make this a reality someday.
6. It would be great to see the many great justice watchdog groups such as Ohio Prison Watch, Behind Bras, PreTrial Justice and Crime Monitor, among others, continue to get needed public funding support to survive.
7. As someone incarcerated as a teenager, I’m grateful for the work of those countless agencies that help teens before, during and after they enter the justice system. Juvenile in Justice, Juvenile Law Centre, the Youth Advocate Program are just a few that realize early intervention is key.
8. So grateful to media who keep these issues in the public eye and expose wrongdoings, include Prison Law Blog, Vice, Huffington Post, The Crime Report, New York Times, The ABA Journal and many more. Also to filmmakers producing insightful documentaries such as The Corridor, which goes inside the nation’s only prison high school.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of <College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons> (McFarland & Co., 2014) and <Prison Education Guide> (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com, and PrisonLawBlog.com