Thank you, David, for reminding us, in this touching piece on Precious, that attention is the currency of tangible pursuits and neither increases nor decreases the value of a life. Not an unfamiliar message to be sure, but one that routinely confounds most of us as we're pressed into sacrificial service of others. If we could just keep Precious in mind when our circumstances invite us into service, and suffer a little with those that are suffering a lot, I'm convinced we would find more of what we are actually looking for in all of our busyness here on earth.
Yes, harp3339, our definition of "success" has become pretty narrow...and, quite frankly, stands in the way of many attaining it.
Plainly (former Sessions Court Judge) Mike Carter's comment, "We can teach them to read and educate them or incarcerate them” is taking out of context. Although the literacy rate in prison is lower than a comparable segment of the population without a prison record, it is completely false to insinuate that if a child does not learn to read, he or she will go to prison. Reading difficulties do not make a person criminal, and Mike Carter knows that. There are many, many hard-working, responsible people in our community that have never been to prison and have learned to read as adults. Just ask programs like Re:start, Ahead, and Educational Opportunities. These are all awesome community efforts to help adults with their education goals (which frequently begin with basic reading skills). We should do everything we can to make sure that our children grow up to be literate, well-informed, ethical and involved adults. READ 20 is a part of that effort. The threat of incarceration is not.
This is the kind of sensible enhancement to our local criminal justice system that can really make a difference, improving public safety while keeping people with mental health concerns from getting inadvertently sucked into prison (where their circumstances get worse and worse and worse...ultimately making their return to the community a deferred disaster for everyone involved). My hat is off to the Crisis Intervention Team!
It is the incarceration rate that is breaking the bank and the crime rate that we are trying to improve. The simple fact is that even with the highest incarceration rate in the world, the US consistently ends up in the top ten countries for highest crimes rates too. I am not saying that locking people up doesn’t keep them from committing crimes. That simply goes against common sense. The question is more one of balance and measure. For example, between 1991 and 1998 the incarceration rate in Texas increased 144% while its crime rate decreased by only a 35%. During the same period, New York’s crime rate declined by 43%, despite an increase of its incarceration rate of only 24%. Similar trends in other states during this same period undermine a simple correlation between incapacitation and crime.
I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “my theory.” I am not for the present early release consideration – I think that will do damage to public safety (as I said above and you reiterate).
There is a wide range of community-base programs that work to help stabilize former offenders and assist them in becoming contributive members of society. Whatever the specifics of the programs, the most important question is whether criminal justice stakeholders collaborate on them (outside their ordinary silos) and are able to balance supervision and sanctions (on the hard side) with services and support (on the soft side). As a simple example: Tennessee prisoners with mental health histories are discharged with ten days of medication and no refill. It doesn’t take long to realize that it is in the public’s interest to schedule a mental health evaluation for these offenders before they run out of pills and decompensate creating a serious public safety concern. Unfortunately this does not happen routinely in Chattanooga. Day reporting centers have been effective in some communities, restorative justice programs have also worked well as an alternative to incarceration, so have community justice courts, drug courts and community policing programs. Obviously I think employment programs are worthwhile…and in that respect, transitional work programs are especially important. As to who gets sentenced to alternatives or who gets access to them after incarceration, I think the rule of thumb is: lock up people that are dangerous and treat those that are not in the community.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to exchange these ideas with you. I certainly appreciate your passion for the topic and your obvious concern for public safety – even if we have differing views about how to best achieve that goal. It is a complicated social problem with no straightforward solution.
It is an emotional subject to be sure and you raise some very good questions:
The cost of incarceration is undoubtedly affected by various programs, special groups/needs accommodations and non-essential “perks” as you call them. In fact, to manage costs during the economic slowdown, TDOC has eliminated some meals, reduced milk and fruit rations, and cut back on meat in the institutional menu. They have also scaled back on programs and inmate work crews which serve the community. But this is not where the bulk of the costs are. If you really want to save money in corrections, you can’t whittle away at the individual costs, you have to shutter prisons. Tax-payers shovel out $50 million a year to keep one prison running. Over the past 17 years, the incarcerated felon population in Tennessee has increased 90% to 26,551. During this same period we added 7 prisons to the system.
I agree it is frustrating (and expensive) when people that know they are guilty use the corrective process provided by the state and try to finesse their way out of prison by appeal/habeas. Although states can eliminate appeals, they are not at liberty to have no corrective process or to bias this process. However disappointing it is to watch people take advantage of this process, the provisions in our Constitution protecting our civil and political rights must be available to the guilty if we want them to be available to the innocent.
More than nine out of every ten executions in the world happen in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States. China reported 1,718 last year leading the pack. And, you are right, China, not counting political prisoners, has a much lower incarceration rate than the United States (715 vs 119 per 100,000). Then again, most countries with comparable incarceration rates do not use capital punishment and those that do don’t execute at rates anywhere near China’s. For Tennessee to reduce head count in prison sufficient to take two institutions offline and impact its budget as needed, the state would have to kill about 3,000 prisoners a year. In doing so, we would not only lead the nation in executions but the entire world. (Continued)
Well I certainly didn’t mean to slight any victim or minimize anyone’s suffering…we are all about preventing future victimization at Chattanooga Endeavors by stabilizing released prisoners and helping them become contributive members of society.
I was reacting mainly to the comments: “KILL THEM” and “by more guns.” And the connection these sort of sentiments had in the popularity of the prison-only policies of the 80’s that sent our incarcerated population soaring at a 45-degree angle, creating a behemoth in our state budget that is breaking the bank now. We can argue about whether this is a good or a bad thing…but there is no argument about how it happened.
Because our niche in the justice system focuses on offenders and providing certain assistances after prison, we easily get stereotyped as coddling prisoners (hug-a-thug). But it just ain’t so:
I wish I had caught these comments earlier because they show the valid reaction of victims and highlight the personal tragedy created in crime. I absolutely did not intend to be read as a “bleeding heart” and welcome anyone contacting me personally to learn more about our work at Chattanooga Endeavors and how our mission contributes to public safety. I can be reached at email@example.com or 423-902-6695.
My gracious! These are just the sort of uninformed, unthoughtful, un-American sentiments that launched our nation's "nothing works" war on crime and got us in this mess in the first place.
With just 5% of the world's population, the United State now locks up 25% of the world's prisoners...and benefits from no real advantage in crime rates as a result. The costs are crippling and we just start noticing this when money runs short with the state and our law-makers are face with extremely tough decisions.
I am in favor of a smaller prison population and a wider base of alternatives in the community. But the prospect of letting people out early during the worst economy we have seen since the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate of parolees is estimated to be over 30%, and with no proposed investment in organizations like Chattanooga Endeavors which communities have created to help, is just making a bad situation worse. There may be no alternative -- in which case, Chattanooga Endeavors and our partners will do what we can to meet the needs of a larger number of unemployed offenders in the community.
I appreciate the concern for public safety expressed here by readers, but the details don't jive with reality and don't help the public debate.
Second highest infant mortality rate! Disturbing but not surprising considering the stream of other social problems where we top the charts. We need to do a better job investing in the people that struggle in the shadows of our revitalized downtown. Good story and GOOD work on the part of Girls, Inc.
It is no news that our appetite for incarceration in the United States has outstripped our ability to pay for it. The on-going deficit taken on by our jail for state inmates is just another reminder that we need to expand our options for managing offenders in the community – where we know many people have a better chance for success and the cost of supervision is a fraction of the cost of confinement. The United States incarcerates more people (and the highest percentage of its population) than any other nation. What’s more, with just 5 percent of the world’s population, we are home to a quarter of the world’s prisoners – a position that, to me, seems curiously un-American! Although not a total solution, it would help in Tennessee (as it has in other states) to invest more heavily in community organizations like Chattanooga Endeavors that provide offender services and help to reduce the headcount behind bars. But with no good news on the state’s budget, it is unlikely that this will happen any time soon.