News/Op-Ed: Problems with Criminal Rehabilitation Plague U.S. Justice System

by R.J. Johnson

Many don’t know that the most difficult thing about doing time in prison is what you do after you’re released. 

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With many ex-convicts not being accepted by society, the chances of living a “normal life” start to become slim to none. According to CSG Justice Center, 76.6 percent of the twelve million people that are released from jail each year are back in jail within five years of release.

Jail or prison is supposed to be a means of rehabilitating criminals and allowing them to be civilized upon release into the world. Instead, it does the complete opposite in some cases, starting from juvenile facilities such as Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago to max security prisons like Pelican Bay that are all across America.

Prisoners are treated sub-human, recovering an animalistic nature that is buried deep inside. They go in for small offenses then are released after learning to become even smarter criminals.

In 2011 Brideport, Connecticut, Kelly Williams-Bolar a homeless mother, was arrested and later charged with first-degree larceny for enrolling her five years old son in a school in a neighboring city. Williams-Bolar pleaded down to a five-year prison sentence for something she saw as harmless.

Is seeking proper education for your child worth this serious of sentencing?

What if Mrs. Williams-Bolar went to jail and fell into a life that she wasn’t originally on track for? Or even worse, murdered.

American society has recently adopted a guilty before proven innocent mentality, especially with minority groups.

On the contrary, you see cases such as Amber Guyger who murdered a man in his own apartment which she mistook for her own. Guyger was sentenced to ten years in prison, however, she will most likely end up serving half of that sentence.

Not only was her sentencing sympathetic, but so were the surrounding people in the courtroom. Including the judge and fellow officers.

Did race matter in these two sentencings between these women with Guyger being Caucasian and Mrs. Williams being African American? Does race matter in the criminal justice system in general? It is extremely difficult to tell, with the numbers in court varying between the races.

“Black male offenders continue to receive longer sentences than similarly situated white male offenders” said the United States Sentencing Commission.

Black males are also less likely to get sentenced on the local level but when they do it is 16.8% longer than white males. These statistics relate to non-violent crimes, showing how harsh the judicial system might be to minority groups.

This discrepancy is not accidental, black males/females get more harsh sentencing than white males/females regardless of past criminal history according to the United States Sentencing Commission.

These statistics also reflect the conviction rates for violent crimes. Non-violent criminals are put through the same system that violent criminals are, potentially building the risk of non-violent criminals being released from prison and committing violent crimes.

Once you are in the system, you will most likely remain unless you are cleared of all criminal charges. Meaning that they are stripped of all basic rights that we take for granted. Traveling abroad, voting, and being able to receive financial aid all become either difficult or completely impossible.

How do we expect ex-convicts to respect themselves upon release if they aren’t given a true chance by society to see if they are truly rehabilitated?

If they are told they are monsters and dangers towards society constantly, then that is what they will continue to be. They will begin to feel hopeless. Most prisoners struggle deeply with self-esteem with many of their families giving up on them, leading them to ultimately giving up on themselves.

Once they are released, no matter how much surrounding support they have these prisoners are still alone. Mentally, physically, and spiritually starved. Living a life even worse than what they were struggling with before they were prosecuted.

Once we begin to positively integrate truly reformed criminals into our society, we will begin to notice the true positive impact it would have on America as a whole.  People make mistakes, at all ages and all walks of life. True rehabilitation starts with us.

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