For years, we have heard the mantra that we must be “Tough on crime.” Unfortunately, that hasn’t always coincided with being effective on crime. Today, we have more prisoners per capita than almost any other country, and our recidivism rate is off the charts. We are locking people up, with significant financial and societal costs, but we are not solving the problems. It is time for a new mantra, one that calls for us to be “Effective on crime.”
As both the state and federal government review our criminal justice laws, there are 3 areas that demand attention:
What can we do to prevent crime? By investing in education and creating opportunities, we can keep our youth from turning to crime in the first place. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies well to this issue. We should be exploring programs that can be offered in our schools, community youth programs like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Naval Sea Cadets, Young Marines, and Youth Challenge Academy, as alternatives means by which to teach the next generation responsibility and essential life skills to prepare them for a prosperous future. We also need to strengthen the family unit, so that parents can take a more active role in keeping their children out of trouble.
We need to examine our prison system. Are we actively working to rehabilitate those on the inside, or are we merely providing supervision? Do we need more mental health experts, more mentors, and more educational opportunities in our prisons, to avoid idle time, and prepare prisoners for re-entry into society? Also, how do we insure that the prisoners, and not society, pay the cost of incarceration. Are there work opportunities for prisoners, to earn money to pay for their stay? Is prison sufficiently unpleasant, so as to deter return visits?
We need to look at re-entry. How do we return prisoners to society in a way that discourages recidivism? We need to look at public private partnerships with community and faith-based organizations. We need to look at programs like Clean Slate, which help convicted felons find meaningful employment. We need to consider programs like Ban the Box, to give individuals a chance to get across the desk from a prospective employer, and explain their situation.
To sum things up, we could say Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Re-entry. These are all areas of opportunity, and while a few talking points don’t do justice to the complexity of the problem, we look forward to working with decision-makers and our communities to find ways to be more effective on crime, instead of just being tough. That’s not to say we should be soft, but that we should see meaningful results for the time and money we put into our criminal justice system. We hope you will join us in this necessary endeavor.