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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Unseen Perils of Perpetuating Incarceration

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

For nearly three decades the nation's get tough on crime policy has lead to overcrowded prisons across the country. Though crime has continued on a downward spiral the past several years, it has been absent a shift in incarceration policies.

The U.S. currently incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world, including China which has nearly six times our population. One in every four women in the U.S. now has an incarcerated family member.

Shamefully, we are also home to more prisoners being sentenced to life without parole when they were juveniles than the entire rest of the world combined.

While prosecutors and law enforcement clamor for longer prison sentences and parole reductions, the human toll of enforcing these policies largely goes ignored. The focus remains on inordinate punitive policies and developing band-aid approaches to symptoms of crime.

Only recently have citizens begun to discover the immense financial burden building and maintaining prisons are on state budgets. This is only because of the large numbers of school closings and neglected infrastructure projects (e.g., road and bridge maintenance and repair).

The untold consequences of our continued callous approach to solving the crime problem are devastating communities. Society's addiction to utilizing prison as the primary instrument of social control only exacerbates the crisis.

It has created a vortex wherein human lives are being destroyed or, at the very minimum, severely damaged. Years of incarceration has lead to many prisoners now leaving the system with mental health issues if they didn't already arrive with them.

Harsh incarceration has imposed unimaginable stresses on prisoner daily lives. It often leads to them experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) upon release, which sometimes manifests itself in violence against others or other acts of criminality.

An unforgiving prison system that does not take seriously the need to provide meaningful rehabilitative and therapeutic programming can only yield disastrous results. It is essential to making broken people whole again.

We can not expect prisoners to see the good in others when the only model they witness of human interaction is one that ignores the value of human life and dignity. This is one reason many children who are who are abused become abusers themselves. It is learned behavior.

People who endure protracted mistreatment, rejection and various of forms of emotional and psychological abuse will develop anger, depression and other symptoms detrimental to their mental health.

They struggle to develop self-worth, lose respect for authority, and battle with other internal issues as a consequence of the collateral damage that ensues.

When society instills the idea in prisoners that they can never be forgiven for what they have done we model a very bleak and dangerous outlook for our returning citizens. We teach them that they should also not forgive others.

Society must re-examine its view of prisoners keeping in mind that 95% of them will one day return home with the potential of becoming a neighbor or co-worker. The question people must ask themselves is, "What kind of person do I want that to be?"

It is an answer that can best be predicted by society's own attitude and behavior. If we want to witness something different we have to do something different.