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As you can tell from the name of our website, we are dedicated to raising awareness for alternatives to prisons.
Let me be clear. Prisons are good for one thing and one thing only: to train future prisoners. Have you ever noticed that people who go to jail are likely to end up in jail? This is not an accident. This is part of a pattern. Unfortunately, we live in a society where the root cause of this pattern is completely neglected, and it’s all by design. It’s as if the moment a crime and are punished for it by going to jail, you are written off the rolls or roster of polite, normal, law-abiding society. It’s as if you are damaged goods, and this is the biggest challenge to the prison system.
Nobody is disputing that there has to be some sort of punishment for crime. Nobody is disputing the fact that if you do the crime, you have to pay the consequence. The issue is, is prison the right answer?
It’s important to understand that the vast majority of people who commit crimes do not commit that same crime again.
Statistically speaking, people who commit crimes habitually are actually in the minority. They really are. Of one hundred prisoners, maybe twenty to thirty percent will commit crimes over and over again. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a high crime or it’s a petty crime. They will commit crimes over and over again.
The vast majority, however, don’t. Basically, they operate on a one-and-done basis. They just do things once, and they’re done, and it really is a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water when you continue to punish the 70% for the rest of their lives.
At the Prison Moratorium Project, we are firm believers in the claim that prisons create more problems than they sole. The way they operate currently in the United States and other countries is that they are a finishing school for criminals. There’s really no other way to describe them. Somebody might come in as a juvenile for some sort of petty crime like spray painting a wall or vandalizing a car in a minor way, but since that person has been tagged as a problem youth and is subjected to increased levels of police scrutiny, there’s a higher chance that person will find himself or herself back in the criminal justice system. This can continue again and again and again.
Throughout that process, the crimes that this person is being charged with becomes more and more serious. Somebody might come in with shoplifting and then after enough time of going in and out of detention and prison, they end up with murder.
That’s how society has written off a large chunk of its members because they happen to have a bad day, made a bad decision, and they have to live with this for the rest of their lives. It’s as if we are pushing them through this lifelong series of stigma to go back to jail and get trained for worse and worse crimes.
THE PRISON MORATORIUM PROJECT!
Remember, jail is where all the criminal contacts are being made. If you come in for petty burglary, it's not unusual for you to meet up with people who are there for drugs.
Once you make those contacts, you can easily pick up the phone once you’re out jail and become a drug dealer because you already have the contacts.
What happens when you get picked up for drug charges? That’s right. The prison sentences are longer, and the consequences are heavier.
Prisons, the way they are run now and the way they are conceptualized and implemented, are simply one-way tickets to a destroyed life.
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The Prison Moratorium Project is built on the assumption that there is a better way. This is not just an empty assumption, mind you. There are other models out there.
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In the Scandinavian countries, for example, the focus is on reform. The focus is on looking at behavioral bases that result is antisocial behavior. As much as we'd like to avoid it, a lot of people who end up in prison are not criminals, but are sick people. Maybe it's a function of a bad childhood. Perhaps it's a function of drug addiction or substance abuse. Possibly, it's a function of being of the wrong mental and emotional coping mechanisms. Whatever the case may be they were at the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong things, through the wrong people, and they end up behind bars.
Now, the question is what are we going to do as a society about it?
Are we going to perpetuate this process of starting them out young, throwing them out of prison once their terms are up and not give them a job.
In the United States, once you commit a crime and you’re a felon, in many states, you cannot vote. In many states, your job prospects are seriously diminished. It’s as if we have systematically frozen these people out of society. They’ve already paid for their crime. Are they faced with the prospect of having to continuously pay for that crime for the rest of their lives?
In effect, that’s the kind of system that we have, and that’s why the Prison Moratorium Project exists. We’re all about opening people’s eyes and minds to potential alternatives. At the very least, we would like to wake people up to the realization that maybe the prison system is not the best idea.
Perhaps the way our punishment and reward system as a society is set up currently is far from ideal. Possibly, as far our other social ideals and values and priorities are concerned, there is a middle way.
We’re all about opening discussions. We’re not necessarily talking about slapping people on the wrist or telling them that what they did is nothing to worry about. That is not our point. In fact, that’s not our case at all. Our case is that if you want to solve a problem, don’t come up with a “solution” that would actually blow up the problem and make it worse.
Unfortunately, the current system is that broken. It creates more problems than it claims to solve. It’s a nonstarter.
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