Tuesday, December 1, 2009


"I had been told that he was a Baptist preacher and had worked as a prison chaplain in the Texas Department of Corrections [TDC] for more than 30 years. When he walked into the restaurant to meet me for lunch he fit the stereotype one might expect. Wavy hair combed straight back, a western-style jacket and boots. when lunch was served he asked that we bless our food. But as soon as he began to talk about the plight of ex-offenders any pre-conceived stereotypes quickly shattered. For the next hour he spoke quietly but passionately about the deperate circumstances of individuals who had been released from prison, the inhumanity of the prison system, the apathy and cruelty of society and misguided public policies. ... Their son's story is not unfamiliar. He developed a drug problem as a teenager that he was never able to whip. After four or five run-ins with our court system he found himself in Huntsville. ... Any parent can imagine their relief when the call came that he was finally being paroled. Soon after the joyous homecoming, however, the reality began ot sink in that the hardships were by no means over. ... My friends have made do, allowing their son to live at home and finding him a job in a family company. But as I watched them struggle with trying to help their son get back on his feet, I wondered what becomes of the vast majority of ex-offenders who have no such support system. ... At the rate we put people in prison in Texas we need to be concerned about that happens when they are released. ... That is, at any given time, about one person in 100 in Texas is in a prison or jail, six times higher than thw world average and higher than even the world's worst dictatorships. Even if we stop putting people in prison at current rates, we will be releasing 20,000 to 30,000 prisoners each year for many years to come just from TDC. ... Most of those released do not have a family to take them in as my friends' son did. [Emett] Solomon told me that only about 5 percent of the men released are met by family members. ... With almost no chance of finding a job or a decent place to live, most fall back into trouble within a few years. TDC studies show that about one in three is back in prison within three years. If you extend the time frame to five years and include other prisons and jails, the recidivism rate is more likely 60 percent to 70 percent. Since most of these inmates are also fathers, long absent from serving as any positive role model for their children, the cycle will likely be handed down to the next generation", Bill King at the Houston Chronicle, 8 November 2009, link: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/6709207.html.

Recognizing many TDC inmates are dangerous criminals and need to be incarcerated, many are not. Texas should rework its penal code and parole policies. We can incarcerate people for two years for passing $1,500 in bad checks!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some can be set free.

Some can be reformed.

And some must stay.

Unfortunately in this time of financial troubles we step back from trying new approaches.

This is not a time for fear. It's time to address the penal code and our policies for imprisoning people.

America can manifest it's core beliefs by reforming our public institutions.