Did you know that the US has just 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners?
Why is the ‘land of the free’ the world’s #1 jailer?
At Fair Shake we have been asking ourselves these sorts of questions about the criminal justice system as we develop our resource center and non-traditional reintegration program focused on responsibility, tenacity, positive & realistic thinking, and the importance of maintaining lasting relationships.
Have you ever wondered, ‘What do we gain from our investment in corrections?’ We house, feed, and care for 2.3 million prisoners at an average cost of $24,000 per incarcerated individual per year. Over 95% of all prisoners will be released, yet nearly 70% of them will return to prison within 3 years, once again sponsored by our tax dollars. Anticipated costs such as prisons, police, lawyers, judges, and parole are substantial on their own, but so too are the hidden externalized costs such as the deterioration of our cities, increased social anxiety, and expensive ‘welfare’ that could be better used in job creation, improved services, and supporting communities.
Ironically, while our prison population and recidivism rate is growing, funding for prison educational programs is shrinking. If ‘correction’ and ‘rehabilitation’ are no longer goals of our criminal justice system, and criminals are simply being warehoused, how does this process make us safer? At an average investment of roughly $100,000 per sentence, one trip to prison should be enough!
Incarceration gives criminals the opportunity to understand the gravity of their crime, reconsider their role as a member of our society, and plan their return to the community. While we feel that the system is working for us by keeping incarcerated individuals out of reach today, we must remember that the prison door will open for them tomorrow. Without proper information and preparation, formerly incarcerated individuals may come home with the same perspective that put them in prison in the first place.
Once formerly incarcerated individuals return to our communities they often lack ways to prove pro-social ambitions and employers, property managers, and neighbors are justifiably skeptical of their intent. They become marginalized and stigmatized, but when shunned by communities their chances for staying out of prison are further reduced. Desperation leads to poor decisions, producing greater risk for us all. By increasing awareness, sharing statistics, dispelling myths, and offering opportunities, Fair Shake works to demystify formerly incarcerated individuals and return them to their rightful status as free and accountable citizens.
Though the main focus of Fair Shake will be to prepare people for success, our participants will also learn to brace for the worst: rejection, set backs, obstacles, and negativity. This is where they will find some of their greatest challenges. On many fronts prison life is vastly different from public life, which is one of the many reasons the transition process is very difficult. To learn more about the differences between prison life and life in society, check out Culture Shock!
Fair Shake has developed and assembled references for all stakeholders. The Resource Directory is primarily focused on reintegration and support for formerly incarcerated individuals, but also contains valuable information for family members, correctional officers, employers, property managers, and community members to learn about and assist in their transition.
We have localized links to:
Hot meals, food pantries, and other food assistance Shelters, housing opportunities, and rent vouchers Employment training programs, licensing limitations, job opportunities, job discrimination laws, bonding, tax credit information, and free background checks for employers
are available for all stakeholders, as well as inspirational and replicable community programs from art to literacy to food production. Legislation plays a key role in transforming criminal justice, along with justice for all of us, so we have provided information to participate in this process as well.
Tough on Crime
Our strictly punitive approach to crime is tough on criminals and taxpayers, while crime itself continues largely unabated. The broader reality is that what we have today in the way of corrections is a symptom of a larger issue, or as John McKnight asserts in his book The Careless Society, ‘she most significant function of the criminal justice system is to compensate for the limits and failures of society’s other major systems.? Formerly incarcerated individuals, policy makers, corrections, and community members must all make positive shifts to shatter our disgraceful title as ‘she World’s # 1 Jailer’. We believe that a ‘fair shake’ for prisoners, and care for our own safety, starts with the opportunity for redemption after incarceration. When formerly incarcerated individuals return to society with a chance at success, we can slow the revolving door and cease to repeatedly warehouse so many of the same people. Economically we will free dollars that can be spent in other areas of society such as education, healthcare, and programs that can repair and rejuvenate our communities. Only then we will we truly become tough on crime.