There is no one solution to the horrors presented in the Callous and Cruel report, but the prescription includes getting people living with mental illness the right help in their communities before the criminal justice system ever gets involved. It includes providing the right kind of treatment and supports in jails or prisons.
My husband was taken out of the courtroom that day and sent to a diagnostic facility, where we would be unable to have any contact with him for the first six weeks of his incarceration. Not knowing anything about prisons besides what I'd seen on television, I imagined the worst. I lay in bed terrified at night, kept awake with worry, wondering if I would get a call telling me he'd been hurt or possibly worse.
As the prison population soared, conservatives chafed at the waste of human potential and increasing cost of the prison bureaucracy. They were frustrated that so little was being done to prepare inmates for their release, and they were appalled at the overcrowded conditions, violence and rape, and the lack of medical care, drug treatment and mental-health services. Conservatives joined with liberals in backing such important reforms as the Prison Rape Elimination Act, the Second Chance Act and the Fair Sentencing Act.
The reform effort succeeded in many ways. D.C. has dramatically reduced its reliance on incarceration and is instead utilizing a network of community-based, non-residential alternatives to incarceration for young people in the juvenile-justice system. Youth-reoffending rates have gone down substantially. The reform has been so successful that the District's juvenile-justice system is used to showcase how to transform a juvenile-justice system for national, state and local officials.
It's only fair to recognize the difference between young- and full-grown adults in sentencing, just as we draw a distinction between juveniles and adults. People who commit offenses before their capacities are fully formed deserve a second chance -- an opportunity for a parole hearing if they mature, rehabilitate, and pay serious restitution to their victims and to the community.
Approximately 70 percent of Georgia's inmates don't have a high school diploma. If their lack of an education is not addressed during their incarceration, when they re-enter society they have a felony on their record but no job skills on their résumé. An ex-con with no hope of gainful employment is a danger to everyone. This is why we're working to help get these individuals into a job. Our prisons have always been schools. In the past, the inmates have learned how to become better criminals.
At the South Bend, Indiana, Dismas house, male and female residents live in a century-old home adjacent to downtown. Residents are ex-offenders, as well as college students from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana University at South Bend, or other local colleges. Only 16 residents can live in the house at one time, allowing more personal one-on-one interaction and mentoring. It is in this mentoring that the task of empowering former offenders to find the strength within themselves to be productive members of society begins.
On countless occasions, I have been strip-searched and made to get completely naked outside for all to see, because two inmates got into a fight on the opposite side of the yard. Strip searches are supposed to be utilized if staff has a reason to believe an inmate is hiding dangerous contraband on their person. However, staff routinely use strip searches as a form of humiliation or intimidation, stripping away not just an inmate's clothes, but their dignity, as well. Furthermore, inmates are stripped of their personal identity and relegated to a number.
Despite making up only 10% of Madison, Wisconsin's population ages 12-17, Black youth make up 60% of the detention-facility population; black youth are six times more likely to be arrested than white youth, compared to a 2:1 national ratio. The point here is that Madison isn't some national outlier regarding these statistics, but proof that even the most "progressive" of places are not immune from a criminal-justice system that is archaic, ineffective, and most of all, unjust. It prioritizes retribution over redemption, punishes poverty, and bars too many from reaching future success.