Re­form­ing prison re­form

Free­ing pris­on­ers whole­sale is not the work­able an­swer

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

Crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form is a good idea, but ev­ery idea of how to make the re­form is not a good idea. The sys­tem we have now is dan­ger­ously dys­func­tional, but the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, and many of its friends on the left seem to think there’s no good rea­son to im­prison any­one, ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional busi­ness­man in trou­ble with reg­u­la­tors.

Pros­e­cu­to­rial mis­con­duct, un­usu­ally harsh sen­tences and over­crowded pris­ons are gen­uine prob­lems, but so is crime. There are real crim­i­nals out there.

Pat Nolan, who worked for years with the late Chuck Col­son in the thank­less and nec­es­sary job to ad­vo­cate for hu­mane pris­ons, once ob­served that “our pris­ons are full of peo­ple we are mad at, when they should be re­served for those we have good rea­son to fear.”

The so­lu­tion, ob­vi­ously, is to keep in mind the dif­fer­ence, to find al­ter­na­tive pun­ish­ment where pos­si­ble for those who merely anger so­ci­ety, and think twice be­fore dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals are sent back to the streets to prey on the in­no­cent.

In­stead, many who de­mand re­form of the dys­func­tional crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem think that even the most vi­o­lent should get a sec­ond or even third op­por­tu­nity to go straight. Re­duc­ing the pop­u­la­tion of the pris­ons ap­pears to be the goal, even if it means free­ing gang­bangers, armed rob­bers and rapists.

Many ju­ris­dic­tions, in their haste to do good, en­dan­ger the pub­lic and abuse their cause by re­leas­ing vi­o­lent crim­i­nals whom so­ci­ety rightly fears. The dilemma is com­pounded when states and other ju­ris­dic­tions re­lease pris­on­ers who have served their terms with­out do­ing much to as­sist their re­turn to free­dom. The District of Columbia should be the model for such ju­ris­dic­tions, but it isn’t. There’s very lit­tle help for those deemed wor­thy of “the sec­ond chance”

The Mayor’s Of­fice of Re­turn­ing Ci­ti­zen Af­fairs, which was es­tab­lished to as­sist re­turn­ing pris­on­ers, hasn’t done much as­sist­ing. The of­fice of the District of Columbia’s in­spec­tor gen­eral says the city has failed its mis­sion, and the na­tion’s cap­i­tal is a tough city to re­turn to. There are few good and pos­i­tive places to live, few jobs, and lit­tle help for those try­ing to re­sist the temp­ta­tion to re­turn to a life of crime.

The District’s fail­ure, tough as it may be for re­turn­ing crim­i­nals who have served their time (and in­clud­ing some who have no real de­sire to go straight), can be tougher still on those who live and work in the city. The re­form­ers, whose work is needed, must keep this clearly in mind.

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