Should we care about prisoners?
Any story highlighting caring about prisoners or issues such as overcrowding in Kentucky jails and prisons is likely to be met by society with at least a few social media comments asking, “why should I care?”. After all, the argument goes, people are in prison because they have done something wrong. And jail or prison is not meant to be a holiday with a private suite – in some fashion, every prison term, short or long, is designed to create an “I don’t want to come back here again” response. And don’t jails and prisons also protect the interest of the public by making our communities a safer place to live and work? That’s true. Here is another truth – unless you are a victim of a person’s crime or have some connection to them, it can be easy for us to not think too much about what happens behind prison walls. We’ve all heard, “do the crime – do the time”. But is that all there is?
With this background, I want to propose that there are several reasons why we should care. What happens or doesn’t happen inside prisons affects all of us on the outside, too.
Most prisoners will be releasedThe simple reason we should all care is this – most prisoners will have a good prospect for release. When they do, each one will initially take up a place back in the community and be someone’s neighbor. Therefore, an element of self-interest should exist in each of us about what happens to prisoners while incarcerated. Proper preparation before release is key. The last thing anyone should want is to have people coming out of prison, not just unprepared for re-entry, but perhaps much worse than when they went in. Serving time alone will not assure a person will not make the same poor choices again. Not focusing on rehabilitation makes reoffending more likely and creates even more victims of crime.
Not everyone in prison has been found guiltyBureau of Justice Statistics data reveal that jails held 745,200 inmates in 2017 (the latest available data), virtually identical to the 747,500 they held in 2005, and significantly higher than the 584,400 they held in 1998. How then does the correctional system keep jails full when there just aren’t as many crimes as there used to be? By locking up an increasing number of people who are awaiting trial and could well be innocent or released because their crimes are not serious. The number of individuals held in jail while awaiting trial has soared 45.3 percent, from 331,800 in 1998 to 482,000 in 2017. By contrast, the number of convicted inmates is almost the same as it was 20 years ago (252,600 in 1998 vs. 263,200 in 2017). About 95 percent of the jail population’s growth is thus accounted for by people who haven’t yet been convicted of a crime. While this data is a couple of years old, the more current partial data report similar numbers.
Incarceration alone isn’t going to create better peoplePrisoners just serving out their sentence does little to help the rehabilitation process. Just keeping your nose clean and spending long periods of time doing nothing does not equip a person for eventual release. Sadly, doing just that is what most prisoners experience. Idle time has increased in 2020 with COVID restrictions in place that keep outside groups from the kind of interaction with prisoners that can help them find purpose while inside that can prepare them to live out that purpose on the outside. And the overcrowding mentioned earlier exacerbates the problem.
It’s your money – lots of your moneyThe average cost of providing a prison place for an inmate in Kentucky for 1 year is just under $25,000. And with recidivism that has 3 of 5 prisoners reoffending within 5 years, that expense is becoming unbearable. With a 2020 budget for the KY Department of Corrections of nearly $645 million, it is in everyone’s best interest to rehabilitate prisoners before they are released. If not, then more money will be wasted. More importantly, lives of those that could have changed, will not have that opportunity.
Children – the collateral consequencesHaving a parent in prison can have an impact on a child’s mental health, social behavior, and educational prospects. The emotional trauma that may occur and the practical difficulties of a disrupted family life can be compounded by the social stigma that children may face as a result of having a parent in prison or jail. Children who have an incarcerated parent may experience financial hardship that results from the loss of that parent’s income. Further, some incarcerated parents face termination of parental rights because their children have been in the foster care system beyond the time allowed by law or have questions about child support. These children require support from local, state, and federal systems to serve their needs.
Children of incarcerated parents may also face a number of other challenging circumstances. They may have experienced trauma related to their parent’s arrest or experiences leading up to it. Children of incarcerated parents may also be more likely to have faced other adverse childhood experiences, including witnessing violence in their communities or directly in their household or exposure to drug and alcohol abuse.
What drives our mission is simple – Jesus says we should care
If you are reading this blog post, you are on our website where there is much information about our approach to changing the trajectory of lives. We believe it is one life at a time where we can make a difference. Every person and family we work with will be counseled, mentored, helped in practical ways and provided with a spiritual anchor to help them navigate their way to a better life. For this and all the reasons above, we encourage you to partner with us more than ever before. We need prayers, volunteers and financial support. Please consider how you can link arms with us in caring for “the least of these”.
Matthew 25:35-40. May God Bless.