Why should I care about people in prison?
Most have heard the oft-cited statistic that 2.3 million human beings are locked up in facilities across the United States. A lesser-known fact is that over 11 million people cycle through jails each year. In addition, There are another 850,000 people on parole (a type of conditional release from prison) and a staggering — and growing — 3.9 million people on probation.
All of these people are branded for life.
Mass Incarceration is the new cancer – but because of the stigma and shame attached, people are often unwilling to speak about it. It’s highly unlikely that you, someone in your family, or someone you know has not been touched by this scourge.
1. Inmates are human.
There are multiple reasons people end up incarcerated. According to the BOP, 70% of inmates are serving time for non-violent offenses, and roughly half for drug offenses. It would not be an exaggeration to say that any one of us could be charged with a crime. Who among us has never been guilty of being distracted while driving, but lucky enough not to have caused an accident that resulted in injury?
2. Some inmates are innocent.
According to The Innocence Project, the few studies that have been done estimate that between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in the U.S. are innocent. If just 1% of those prisoners are innocent, that would mean that more than 20,000 innocent people are in prison. Even more alarming, for every ten people executed in this country, one innocent person has been exonerated.
3. Even (especially) people guilty of crimes deserve compassion and mercy.
“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” — Bryan Stevenson
“I believe that the measure of my soul is my capacity to love imperfect people.” — Joseph Grenny
“We are all potential criminals, and those whom we have put into prison are no worse, deep down, than any one of us. They have succumbed to ignorance, desire and anger, ailments that we all suffer from but to different degrees. Our duty is to help them.” — His Holiness, The Dalai Lama
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” — Abraham Lincoln
“All of us have something we need to be cleansed of, or purified from.” — Pope Francis
“May we not succumb to thoughts of violence and revenge today, but rather to thoughts of mercy and compassion. We are to love our enemies that they might be returned to their right minds.” — Marianne Williamson
4. Most inmates in jails are pre-trial detainees, who have not been convicted of anything.
The U.S. has the largest pretrial detention population in the world. In 2013, 20 percent of those (or 97,400 human beings) eventually had their case dismissed or were acquitted. R. Aborn and A. Cannon (Winter 2013). Prisons: In Jail But Not Sentenced, Americas Quarterly.
5. 95% of inmates will be released.
“Family involvement has a positive relationship to recidivism rates. Studies have consistently found that prisoners who maintain close contact with their family members while incarcerated have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates. These findings represent a body of research stretching back over 40 years.” Friedmann, A. (2015, April 15) Lowering Recidivism Through Family Communication Prison Legal News.
Providing support to inmates during their incarceration increases their odds of living productive lives after release, which in turn benefits the community.