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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.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Navigating the Mich. Parole Board Prisoner Release Process

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

Despite the fact that crime has consistently been on the decline the past several years, the media's over-reporting of crime has generated an array of public fears and raised concerns about the parole process.

These fears have grown exponentially when it comes to reporting about the cases of juvenile lifers. These prisoners will be resentenced in the coming months, and many of them will become parole eligible.

Juvenile lifers are those prisoners who were convicted when they were juveniles and received mandatory life without parole sentences. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that such sentences are unconstitutional.

In Michigan no juvenile lifer who is resentenced will be released from court after resentencing. Each is required to return to prison to have their case reviewed by the Parole Board for release consideration.

Release evaluations consist of several variables. Some of them include the nature of the crime, prisoner's role in the crime, prisoner's security level, and misconduct history. Previous incarceration and parole history, program completions, and a psychological evaluation are also considered.

When prisoners become parole eligible they are interviewed by a Parole Board member and asked several important questions. Some of the questions include why the crime was committed, what their role in the crime was, what they have been doing with their time while incarcerated, what their plans are upon release, etc.

Prisoners are also asked questions to learn about the insight they have developed during their incarceration. The Parole Board wants to know what they have learned about themselves and the actions that lead to their criminal behavior, how they have changed their thinking and behavior, how/if they express empathy, etc.

The Parole Board must be reasonably convinced a prisoner will not pose a danger to society if released or they will not parole the prisoner. In some instances parole denials can and have spanned several years until the Parole Board feels the prisoner is ready for release.

Theoretically a prisoner who receives a 25 to 60 year sentence could remain imprisoned 60 years. They would only become eligible to begin receiving parole "consideration" after serving 25 years. They could be released in 30 years, 45 years, or as long as 60 years.

Though no two cases are the same, the Parole Board applies its public safety litmus test equally and scrutinizes their list of variables in each situation.

The mere fact that a prisoner becomes parole eligible is not a mandate for their release. It is simply an opportunity for the Parole Board to begin "considering" their release.

Michigan citizens can feel safe knowing that qualified professionals are reviewing each case of parole eligibility. Many states do not even have Parole Boards and prisoners are released upon becoming parole eligible.

While the Parole Board cannot predict every prisoner's future behavior, the tools they use help them protect the public and vastly minimize future recidivism.

Inherent in the parole process is the offer of second chances, acknowledgment of rehabilitation and the concept of redemption. It is a process that recognizes change.

The parole process is not intended to be a mechanism that metes out death by incarceration sentences or a creative alternative to the death penalty.
The door should never be closed to the idea of reformation. If it is, prisons will become veritable graveyards of hopes and dreams.