Concentrate on rehabilitating prisoners

April 22, 2014

I write to advocate a sometimes unpopular view: helping prisoners. When we help prisoners we help ourselves, and, in many ways, our society.

Should some people be forever incarcerated and punished for their heinous crimes? Yes. But many prisoners have not committed vile crimes nor violent crimes, and many realize their errors and want to improve, reform - and they can reform and improve with opportunity and guidance.

At least one-third of our prisoners are nonviolent drug offenders; they need treatment, not prison. Treatment will save a fortune in taxpayer dollars in reduced recidivism. Also remember: over 96 percent of prisoners are going to reenter society. They will be your neighbors.

By and large, prisoners have no voice. They have burned bridges; they are scorned by society, and many of their pleas, legal and otherwise, fall on deaf ears. I suggest we should listen more, and act to improve re-entry programs for prisoners.

While many people are now realizing the insanity of our “war on drugs,” we keep locking up nonviolent drug users. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We have been waging the “war on drugs,” warehousing prisoners, for over 40 years, and it does not work!

It costs approximately $36,000 to house one inmate for one year. That’s $36,000 hard-earned taxpayer dollars. The recidivism rate in Delaware and across the nation is through the roof.  Prisoners return and return again to jail to burden us with that $36,000 per year per person.

While there is a modicum of support for prisoners leaving the institutions, such programs should be greatly expanded, and much more effort should be made to educate and vocationally train prisoners. It is shortsighted that very, very little is done in these areas.

Sure, the argument goes: “we send ‘em to jail to punish them, not to train them.”  However, this approach has cost us dearly. Beyond the costs of incarceration are the families torn apart, the lives ruined, the physical and emotional scars of the victims of crimes, the medical and social services costs, and the unskilled and untrained, often homeless, people leaving prisons.

I dare say that the caliber of people leaving prisons can and should be vastly improved.  With effective  programs for education, job training and more spiritual guidance, a dollar wisely spent now will save countless dollars and much agony in the future.  I have seen that the word “corrections” really does not fit in “Department of Corrections;” it’s an oxymoron.  Various committees talk endlessly about these issues.

Let us act. Let us act to enhance the chances that those leaving prisons will stay out of prison, to benefit us all. It is the compassion for the underdog, the concern for basic human rights, which sets this nation apart from so many others.

Most prisoners are not “ax wielding child molesters;” many are ready to change after paying their dues to society for their wrongdoing, and we would be wise to better facilitate their improvement.

Earl R. Lofland
chairman, Kent County Independent Party of Delaware
former candidate for U.S. House of Representatives
member, Citizens for Criminal Justice

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