A Call to Reduce the Prison
Population and to Help Bring About
Change in the Prison System
By Sr. Brenda Walsh, Racine
(An excellent source of information is
the Washington Friends Committee on National Legislation Newsletter - No 250,
September, October 2011. Go to
Statistics and quotes used with
Another good source is Fellowship
Magazine, Spring 2011 issue, Vol.7. (Check
http://www.forusa.org. )It includes several articles on Transformation of/in
Prisons. Statistics and quotes used with permission)
In recent times, some church and civic
leaders are calling for changes in the current prison system and a reduction in
the prison population.
The reasons given are these:
We have the largest prison system in the world.
While the United States comprises 5% of the world’s
population, we hold about 25% of the world’s reported
is exorbitant to the tax payers, communities, victims and offenders
and their families. Resources are taken away from basic human needs
such as food, housing, education and medical care for the physically
and mentally ill.
system is unfair and unjust. There is a much higher percentage of
prisoners that are people of color, poor, uneducated, lacking work
skills and other basic human needs. In 2003, black men were twelve
times more likely to be sent to prison for a drug offense that white
men, even though both groups use and sell drugs at basically the
same rates. Too many undocumented workers are ending up in prison.
“Our prison system constitutes a form of apartheid – an
institutionalized apartheid that is social, economic and racial – a
crisis that particularly imposes itself as cultural crisis.” FOR
Spring 2011 p. 12.
does not make our streets safer. Some who leave prison have no
means of supporting themselves and want to return to prison where
they have at least some food and a roof over their heads at night.
people need to be freed from their addictions in order to be able to
live a safe and humane life. Programs are lacking to address their
addictions. We need more treatment instead of prisons.
What are Some
Alternatives to Prison?
Locking up undocumented immigrants is not the answer. We need
to make major changes in the Immigration System. The number of
people locked up in the last 15 years has increased seven-fold.
Families are torn apart and no treatment is available for those
needing treatment for addictions. People need to get involved with
one of the groups working for Immigration Reform. “Treatment Instead
of Prison” is one such program.
2 Use some of the
money spent on incarceration to provide a good education, health
care for those lacking it, to address addictions and provide job
training for those who are ready for it. Some communities are
already establishing needed programs and services and are having
good results by getting people into jobs and ensuring their
continuance in the work obtained. In Wisconsin, we already have
services that have proven to be effective and transformative
strategies. It is a collaborative effort between the Dept. of
Corrections, Human Services and Office of Justice Assistance,
which has established the Treatment Alternatives and diversion
(TAD). Grant money is provided to fund projects that provide
alternatives to prosecution and incarceration for criminal
offender who abuse alcohol or drugs.
An anonymous college graduate wrote this in prison: “The
challenge before us today is to bring higher education back. I
pray that they will rise to this challenge and reverse the
negative program cutbacks that our government, so blinded by
ignorance, has imposed on prisons, people incarcerated and
society at large. “FOR – Spring 2011, p. 14
Address people’s spiritual needs and involve churches in meeting some
of the needs and in creating solutions. This would give people some
motivation for living a meaningful life and working for the common good.
This service needs to be available within and outside the prison system.
People can be trained for such services that will bring about good results.
This effort must start with young children who need to learn the art of
nonviolent ways of solving problems and learn personal responsibility in
their daily lives.
Support war veterans returning home and provide the services they
need for physical of mental problems. We must welcome them home and help
them find some solutions to their many challenges.
Reverse the negative cutbacks in funding presently carried out by our
local, state and national government. Use the money for basic resources
needed to prepare people for life and work.
Mobilize people and groups for systemic change and work to bring
about the changes needed. Invest in training for nonviolence. This will help
people to stay away from violent means of solving problems.
Prepare people well for re-entry back to their communities after
their time of incarceration has ended.
Let us pray and work for prison reform
and find alternative ways to deal with people who break the law and need to
reform their lives. By working together and calling on our faith resources, we
can accomplish the task. Let us begin today with courage, conviction and hope.