Please release me, let me go
For I don’t love you anymore
To waste our lives would be a sin
Release me and let me love again
Engelbert Humperdinck, 1967
Prisons are filling rapidly. In fact, they’re already as full as a corporate CEO’s Swiss bank account. Cells designed to hold one inmate now house two, three, and four or more felons. Institutional gyms have been converted to human warehouses, stocked with an assortment of offenders. It’s not unusual to see steel beds bolted to the walls in prison and jail hallways.
Trailers, mobile homes, tents, and shipping containers have all been re-configured as prison and jail housing units. We’re packing people (many of whom are non-violent offenders – pot smokers, and drug addicts) in faster than they’re coming out. The revolving door simply cannot keep up the pace. Neither can the pockets and checkbooks of U.S. taxpayers.
Currently, there are 7.3 million people in the U.S. correctional system. That’s a staggering 1 out of every 31 adults. In 1982, that total was 2.2 million.
In 2007, one in 11 African American adults (9.2 percent) were in the prison system.
The rise in prison population is quite overwhelming – overwhelming and dangerous. But is it necessary?
How many prisoners are serving long sentences for relatively minor, non-violent crimes? What happens to these individuals when their time is up? Why does the United States lead the world in the number of incarcerated men and women? Why do southern states incarcerate more people than other states?
Felons (I’m only speaking of the non-violent offenders – drug abusers, etc. – who have learned their lesson and want to become productive citizens again) basically have no reason to follow the straight and narrow after their release from prison. They can’t find decent work, if they can locate any work at all, because of their criminal records. A cause of recidivism? Maybe.
Also, in some states convicted felons are not permitted to vote, ever, without a pardon from the governor (a pardon from the president of the U.S. is necessary if the person was convicted of a federal crime). And they can’t ever own a firearm again. Why not give these folks a goal to work toward? Perhaps, something like restoring their rights after staying out of trouble, maintaining a job, giving to the community, etc. for a period of five years after their release. Maybe clear their records after ten years of exemplary behavior? Living with a dark cloud over one’s head cannot be good for the mind and self-esteem.
My questions for you are: Should felons be forgiven for their crimes once they’ve paid their debt to society? Should there be a point when they’re able to have their rights restored, an act that would go a long way toward restoring their dignity?
I’m anxious to hear your opinions.