There is much discussion today regarding prison reform and a second look at our state and nation’s ultra-high incarceration rates. Many critics of the present system point out that it is cheaper and more productive to finance higher education or technical training for struggling members of society than to pay for long stints in prison, especially for those inmates who are chronic, non-violent criminals due to drug dependencies.
Also in the mix is the argument that such inmates come out of doing hard time meaner and more likely to turn violent due to the environment they just left. Senator Jim Webb has taken up the cause of prison reform with his customary zeal and has opened up the debate at an opportune time. State leaders are less aggressive about the issue, although Virginia has led the nation in many types of criminal justice initiatives. Maybe the hesitation stems from a fear of taking on such a sensitive issue that mixes politics, religion and taboo subjects, such as leveraged birth control.
No one can argue that our nation needs to cut costs and find alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. Hopefully the debate will allow some freethinking about the deeper causes of chronic drug use and recidivism as well. If we shed the attitude of some religions that promote maximum procreation and examine what really happens to many children raised in drug cultures, maybe we can create a program Virginia taxpayers can embrace because it accomplishes many goals at once, the most important being the comprehensive protection of children.
We should to implement an early release program for specific prisoners now crowding Virginia’s jails. In order to qualify for early release, the inmate would first voluntarily apply for a vasectomy or tubal ligation so that unwanted pregnancies will not derail his/her path toward education, rehabilitation and social responsibility. Further, tomorrow’s at risk generation of children raised in highly dysfunctional environments would shrink through prevention, not abortions or the high mortality rate that too often follows them from conception to deaths that are many times premature and brutal.
To qualify for this parole program the inmate applicant would have to meet the minimum criteria and be subject to the following conditions:
- Inmate’s felony criminal record is for non-violent offenses
- The inmate must become gainfully employed (at least 20 hours per week) within 90 days of early release plus perform at least two years community service cleaning up litter along roads and streams and performing recycling duties under Virginia’s assign-a-highway program.
- Must serve supervised parole that includes finishing a GED program or the next level of education for which he or she is eligible.
- The state would drop the drug testing deadfall. Most of these eligible inmates are drug addicts, they are going to fail tests and the prisons are clogged with them. Re-incarcerate them for new crimes, not for simply using drugs. If they were self-disciplined enough to stop using highly addictive drugs they would not be in prison to start with.
- Use some of the spare prison space created by this early out program to house convicted sexual predators who should be receiving mandatory minimum long term sentences, including life, to protectchildren and women from a group that has an 85% recidivism rate.
Incarcerating the millions of Americans who use illegal drugs cannot be our goal. It is impossible to achieve and this fruitless effort deflects billions of dollars that can best be used for prevention, rehabilitation, education, youth development and at-risk intervention programs that work. Drug addicts have a disease. They steal, lie and cheat their own families and friends to feed this disease. They are unlike the natural born or environmentally hardened criminals that are many times sociopaths that rape, maim and molest other human beings without remorse. These are the folks that deserve little compassion and long prison sentences.
Some will call this a radical plan. These may also be radical times that pose an opportunity to drop political correctness and resist being bullied by organizations that wish to impose upon the taxpayer plans that simply do not work and carry a tragic cost in human suffering and wasted public funds.
Abolishing parole was considered a radical idea when then Governor George Allen first proposed it but we now see that it substantially brought down crime rates. We now need to tweak that good idea by discerning between categories of criminals. Let the non-violent drug addicts go home early, help clean up the environment and if rehab fails, they can just hang out with their erstwhile buddies and waste their lives on their own dime. As long as they are not having children they usually will not support, or worse, have children that are abused or neglected, they pose much less risk to the public than rapists and pedophiles that should in the worst of cases never again see the light of day.
Just a thought from the hills.