It’s not a secret that Obama has pardoned more prisoners than the past 12 presidents combined. He’s been on a mission to get nonviolent offenders out of prisons around the country and provide them with programs that can equip them with the skills to remain out.
Most nonviolent prisoners are nervous about the incoming Trump administration’s nominee Jeff Sessions priority to crack down on drugs, gun crimes and illegal immigrants and rightfully so. The Republican Senator has no history of seeking alternatives to incarceration when it comes to nonviolent drug offenders. Inmates are aware of his history as a federal prosecutor in Alabama.
The fear of so many families of who watched the war on drugs ruin generations over thirty plus years are also concerned that Trump and Sessions will revive the trend of incarcerating minorities at a rate that would have prisons bursting with nonviolent offenders all over the country.
Trump has already sold the nation that “crime is out of control” while declaring himself “the law and order candidate.” Those subliminal words echoed across television stations coupled with the mainstream media’s primary coverage of inner city minorities handcuffed or engaging in some self-destructive behavior will sell an approach that will undoubtedly threaten what the Obama administration regards as a milestone in criminal justice. For the first time in decades, the population of prisoners in local, state and federal prisons — which quadrupled from about 500,000 in 1980 to 2.2 million in 2015 — is actually shrinking.
The Obama administration sees that trend as a reflection of more lenient and sensible approaches to sentencing, and in recent months, Justice Department officials have moved ahead with initiatives meant to provide “second chances” for criminal offenders and ease their path back to their communities.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons is making strides to assist those who will be leaving prisons within a few years of their release date.
A school system has been set up in federal prisons. They put in place new oversight for halfway houses. They created a new, centralized mental health facility for women at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut. They stopped using private prisons to house federal offenders because of safety and security concerns.
The mentality among prosecutors in the 1990s was to put drug offenders away for as long as possible. The stiff sentencing policies failed to adequately distinguish between the drug kingpin and “the kid on the corner”. The consequences for both the prisoners and their families are still enormous
Those long sentences, have only been compounded by the lack of adequate prison programs for job training, education and mental health. Too many freed prisoners never learned to read in prison, they never learned a trade in prison, they are unemployable, literally unemployable. When they come out, they have nowhere to live. The federal bureau of prisons has programs but they do not force inmates to participate. As such some inmates return home without addressing their addiction at all which leaves them vulnerable to any destructive behaviors existing in within their communities.
It remains to be seen what new policies a new administration will want to focus on.
Each year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons, and over 11 million cycle through local jails. In addition, a broader population – approximately one in three U.S. adults – has an arrest record, mostly for relatively minor, non-violent offenses, and sometimes because of the crimes committed decades in the past. The long-term – sometimes lifetime – impact of a criminal record will keep many of these people from obtaining employment, accessing housing, higher education, loans, and credit – even if they have paid their debt to society, turned their lives around, and demonstrated that they are unlikely to reoffend. At the same time, Research sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) shows that individuals who stay out of trouble for just a few years after an arrest are largely indistinguishable from the general population in terms of their likelihood of committing a crime. Further, participation in pro-social behaviors like employment, education and civic engagement – the very things that people with criminal records are often barred from participating in – actually reduce recidivism.
In order to truly make our communities safer, we must make sure that people who have served their time are able to fully and productively engage in our society – whether through education or employment or some other constructive means. They need to work, pay taxes and be afforded opportunities as other law abiding citizens.
Providing incarcerated individuals with a range of workforce services while they transition out of local correctional facilities better prepares them to reenter the workforce and improves their opportunities for finding suitable employment immediately upon release.
If handled the right way, many believe that a reentry policy can lead to lower crime, stronger families and more prosperous communities. If handled poorly or ignored, then the already deep cycles of poverty, criminality and incarceration that will prevent inner cities and other neighborhoods from reaching their full potential.
I have never considered it a waste of time to speak with incarcerated or free gang members, violent or nonviolent inmates or anyone currently part of the justice system. As a prison consultant, life coach and public speaker my mission will always be to let them know that preparation prior to release is their responsibility. It is not incumbent on the federal, state or local jail to make them conscious of their potential. I also feel obligated to inform those in a positon to put policies and programs together that they should help prepare those who have paid their debt to society. They are can play a major role by addressing obstacles to successful reentry that many returning inmates encounter.