For years, we have followed a “tough on crime” model within our justice system. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always resulted in policies that have effectively delivered the results we seek, namely rehabilitation, and meaningful re-entry into society. It is costly to incarcerate people, and when we have the same people returning again and again, the cost keeps climbing for the tax payer. 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 fresh look at how we tackle our justice system, with an eye toward delivering the results we all want; greater public safety through effective dissuasion and rehabilitation.
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? We have had sufficient time and data collection to be able to analyze trends that have lead to criminal behaviors. We know that level of education plays a prominent role in likeliness to offend. 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, and community youth programs like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, United States Naval Sea Cadets, Young Marines, and Youth Challenge Academy, are some 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 and actively participate in their education.
- We need to examine our prison system. Is it working? Would we accept this success or failure rate in any other area? If not, why do we accept it in our corrections system without demanding adjustments. 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. The overwhelming majority of those incarcerated will be released at some point. Are we preparing them to live in our neighborhoods? 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. Where possible, we need to remove barriers to lawful employment. All of these measures lead to greater public safety.
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, young conservatives are joining the conversation all across America, and looking forward to working with decision-makers and our communities to find ways to be more effective on crime, instead of simply 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, as we put forth conservative solutions to the problems that exist within our current justice system.