CA initiates reinvestment and a new vision in incarceration

Dewey Mullis

It isn’t a new discovery that the United States leads the world in the number of citizens incarcerated per capita. Sadly, it might be one of the few rankings in which the U.S. tops the charts.

Some may see this as a victory for the “get tough on crime” mantra, but in reality, the chart-topping incarceration rate highlights a major defeat for the U.S.

How did this problem come to fruition? Punitive attitudes and decades of the “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality took us on a conviction frenzy.

By the time crime rates went down, the mandatory minimum sentencing laws had packed the prisons. We had begun to see fewer people going into the prison but leaving at an even slower rate.

Of the lucky ones to see the end of their prison sentence, 60 percent will end up back in the hole within one to three years.

Inside the walls are millions of men and women doing time in one way or another. Like a time capsule, a prison takes us back to the early days of man when survival was key and anything went. Hunting, killing, dominance, respect and territory mean everything to an incarcerated individual’s survival.

Opportunities for pro-social modeling are often severely restricted. In some instances, one must have a clean record of good behavior in order to participate in a program. But one extra library book or an extra bar of soap in their cell would be considered contraband and most likely cut short their participation.

Simple mistakes are turned into cause for concern and will easily leave a hard-working inmate alone and back at square one.

Many inmates use previously untapped craftsmanship to construct beautiful wood furniture, toys and displays that the public will never see. The people who called for their confinement don’t get to see the fruits of their labor. We are missing out on what some have to offer.

Departments are short on both the budgetary and personnel ends. Case managers at North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, for example, carry a caseload of up to 100 inmates. And the state claims to not have enough money to hire more case managers.

This leads to a lack of accountability and oversight from both inmates and staff. Accountability issues were the reason the individual ended up incarcerated in the first place, but learning to find alternative, acceptable motives becomes challenging if a case manager is having a hard time keeping up.

But there may be hope in California. State voters will have the opportunity to tackle this prison problem head-on this November. On the ballot is Prop. 47: The Reduce Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative.

The first phases would reduce six charges from felony to misdemeanor status. It’s estimated that tens of thousands of offenders currently serving for these crimes would be able to have their sentences reduced.

The most noteworthy element of this legislation is that it takes the estimated $150 million to $250 million saved on incarceration costs and redirects it to education, community corrections and reentry initiatives.

This is what we have to do. We have to make a serious effort to reinvest resources toward successfully transitioning individuals back into our community.

I’m excited to see how this reinvestment initiative can affect the outlook on people re-entering a society that has an often negative perspective.

We can no longer avoid the truth that we are too punitive. We have to change our mentality. We have locked some of the best and brightest human minds in cages. They’ve done their time and now we have to re-think punishment.

Mullis, a senior criminal justice major from Wallburg, is an opinion writer.