by J.C. Riley #288310
Can a Leopard change its spots? If it does, what would it look like? Do we use detergents to scrub it clean? Or do we dye the cat’s fur to cover the spots. That would indeed be “Change”, but would it still be a Leopard?
This is the complexity of the questions we’ve asked ourselves about a Criminal Justice System not designed for Rehabilitation. A Criminal Justice System not intended to Motivate positive Change or recognize Incarcerated People as Human Beings. In order to understand WHY the Criminal Justice System operates this way, to understand what could help create Change, we must first explore the true function of the Criminal Justice System.
Or why the Leopard is Spotted in the first place.
When a Prison opens in the State of Michigan, as in other states in this country, it creates an entire Economic System for cash strapped towns fortunate enough to host such a lucrative business.
Business, you say? Aside from employers such as General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, the Michigan Department of Corrections employs thousands of employees and support staff. When a prison opens it creates even more opportunities for stores, bars, restaurants, new homes, schools and more to support the new “Business” in town.
It doesn’t stop there. Prisons provide a permanent consumer base for Prison Profiteers like JPay, Access, and Global Tel Inc. It allows these companies to monopolize entire areas of commerce, like clothing, banking, communications, and food services, without competitive overhead or being held responsible for consumer protection laws or standards. Prisons are a Gold Mine for large investment firms, many of which hold lobbying power in State Capitals and even in Washington DC.
What is produced by the Industrialization of a Public Function such the Criminal Justice System? What effect does it have on our Communities and the individuals who -whether deserved or not- have become fuel for the Monster it has become?
What the Criminal Justice System has created are the conditions we see on the streets today, people who are encouraged to operate outside of the laws of society and incentivized to commit criminal rather than civil behavior.
Michigan in particular produces the most untrained, uneducated, and uncultivated prisoners in all social categories.
Because of this many prisoners reoffend, not because they are “bad”, “evil”, or “irredeemable”, but because the only value the Criminal Justice System in Michigan has placed in them is their value to JPay, Access, or Aramark, or the town that benefits from the economic effect of prison industry.
Prisoners in the State of Michigan live in some of the harshest conditions of any other prison system in the country.
Michigan Prisoners do more time, are offered less opportunity for reform, but are more scrutinized for release than any other prisoner in this country. This isn’t by mistake; it is done to create a certain type of individual the Prison
System can advertise to the public to justify their function as an Industry. You know, to justify WHY the Leopard has its Spots.
For people who really do care about Rehabilitation, a Motivation to Change, and the Human Cost of such a System, a wise investment would be made NOT in Prison Reform, but in PRISONER Reform. Investment should be made in the individuals serving LIFE or LONG INDETERMINATE SENTENCES, because these are the people who spend the most Time with the prisoners entering your communities. They spend more time with offenders on their way home than any other prison staff and are more capable of assessing and correcting behavior. Prisons, Prison Staff and Prison Programming have all proven incapable of successfully handling the needs of reform in the prison population.
The truth is, prisoners don’t build prisons, those were built long before most of us were born with an idea of who would fill the cells before we made it to the 6th Grade. We didn’t make the rules, we can only do in prison what we are directed and permitted to do. By showing compassion, generosity, and humility, you encourage it, and by allowing some sense of independence in prisoners, you foster that quality in them.
True, confinement and punishment is necessary. People should pay for the crimes they commit and the wrongs they inflict. But Society must be careful not to give rise to the very thing they wish to avoid in punishing those who do wrong.
So what should we do with the wayward wrongdoers of our society? How about Education? All prisoners should be educated upon entering prison. Not only in the laws that govern the court system, but also in Self Help, Vocational
Training, and any other educational avenues open to other prisoners.
If you allow people to strive for the right things, they will embrace the opportunity and become an inspiration to others. If you educate prisoners and reward the highest achievers in prison with life sustaining jobs, early parole eligibility, preferable transfers to locations closer to their own communities, and access to better conditions of confinement, other prisoners will strive for the same things. They will be encouraged to live within the law instead of occupying their time with slicker ways to circumvent it.
As a mature Adult Black Male it hurts me DEEPLY to see the community I grew up in suffer through the crime and violence I once propagated in my youth. It hurts to know there is very little I can do from where I am. But I am inspired to know that one day things can change, and I may have the opportunity to contribute in a positive productive way.
Changing Prisons won’t improve the conditions of the Prison System, but a focus on Changing the minds of people in Prison can change the conditions of our Society. In other words, the Leopard wouldn’t have to change it’s spots if you start feeding a different kind of Cat.