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A better way to talk about prison reform

…an expensive way of making bad people worse.

Behind bars…sort of is one of the best descriptions of the myths of our modern imprisonment model I’ve read from traditional media.

The questions posed are ones that are raised by activists and those opposed to how our criminal justice system operates. Sadly, these questions rarely get substantive answers from policymakers.

  • What’s the point of prison? (Punishment? Rehabilitation? Humiliation?)
  • How do we define & measure a prison’s effectiveness?
  • Has increased imprisonment lead to improved quality of life for those not in prison?
3 R's: Reduce, Remove, Remake

3 R's: Reduce, Remove, Remake

Re-framing the debate: Reduce, Remove, Remake

Americans are viewing more and more issues through the lens of their wallets. Perhaps this can work for rethinking prisons too.

Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ, made progress on prison reform in his jurisdiction in large part by framing sensible incarceration policy as a matter of fiscal responsibility. The premise is that a city needs a consistent tax base to function, and people who are being warehoused are not paying taxes. It’s a great example of using a seemingly centrist frame (“fiscal responsibility”) to execute on a progressive agenda (“prison reform”). Prisons like the one featured in this article cost no more to construct, yet they save the cost of inmate humiliation & dehumanization. Those of us not in prison feel in that cost terms of recidivism.

Perhaps this can work on a broader scale if this is adjusted slightly. Instead of focusing solely on “let’s quickly make them productive taxpayers again,” we should broaden that to the following “Reduce, Remove, Remake” approach:

As a society responsible for the protection of its citizens, we will raise everyone’s quality of life by insisting that we reduce the motivations for crime, remove the policy loopholes and resource lapses that allow crime to persist, and remake our prison system into one that benefits society more than it costs it.

Doing this takes political courage on behalf of citizens, activists, and policymakers, but it can be done. Let’s transform our system away from being “an expensive way to make bad people worse” into “an investment in our shared security and well-being.”

One Love. One II.

Photo Credit: photoaskew on Flickr

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The way church should be…

Great article from CNN I read about last week regarding how I think church should be. Read the article below, with my commentary to follow.

(CNN) — The pastor of a non-denominational church in Argyle, Texas, passed around the collection plate to his congregants earlier this year — and asked them to take money from it.

Donations at the Cross Timbers Community Church had slumped because of the economic downturn. Pastor Toby Slough thought that his congregants had to be hurting, too. His gesture, instead, was met with an unexpected response: The church had its highest offering ever.

It was a eureka moment for Slough: Give away money to those who need it, knowing his church members will help fill the need. “In these economic times, we can’t be so into church business that we forget what our business is, and that is to help people,” Slough told CNN television affiliate KDAF in Dallas-Forth Worth, Texas.

In the past two months, the 9-year-old church has done just that: handed out a half-million dollars to members and non-members who are struggling.

“We’ve taken $200,000 and spread it out to organizations — four local, two missions that are feeding and clothing people in these tough times,” Slough said. “We’ve paid utility bills for members of our church that are unemployed or under-employed.”

His favorite giveaway came three weeks ago. The church gave 1,400 families $50 each and told them to hand it out to someone else. One of the recipients was Katie Lewis. “I’ve been alone so long. Just to be thought of and to be remembered, to be welcomed — it’s amazing,” she said, crying. Church members are pleasantly surprised. “You don’t hear about a church giving money away,” Amy Sullivan said. Slough said he is not concerned if people try to take advantage of the church’s generosity.

The church has now formed a group to look into the best ways to give out money. And, Slough said, it plans on doing so as long as there is a need in the community

What makes this story incredibly hype is that far too many churches berate their members to give to the building fund, church anniversary fund, or join the VIP or the $1,000 line. People are hurting and if I recall correctly, the purpose of giving to church is to maintain or expand the church ministry along with having enough resources in the store house for God’s children. This storehouse concept is all but lost in many of the churches I know and the fact that it made CNN, speaks to how relatively rare this kind of generosity is. I wish more churches went this route because if we are not helping people in their time of need, we as the church risk losing relevance.

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

Racial inequity has our economy rigged

Many people still think racism is intentional, conscious and personal. It’s not. As the economic crisis shows, we are facing racial inequities that have their roots in the explicit racism of earlier generations but which now devastate communities of color without intent. This is where we now need to turn our attention.

From Stop the Next American Nightmare by Seth Freed Wessler at Huffington Post

My take:

  • The common argument that “the racism that happened in the past is not important today” is flatly wrong. Some complain that pollution today hurts children in the future. Others say that poor financial decisions will burden our children with unthinkable debts & deficits. In exactly the same fashion, the racism of our forefathers hurts people in the here and now.
  • This is further evidence of the myth of the Post-Racial Society. In order for a Post-Racial Society to come into being, the racism and the remnants of that racism, and them impact of that racism must be dealt with justly.
  • The problem is racism is at a minimum both moral & economic. Once one agrees that racism [and other manifestations of prejudice] are morally wrong, there are economic questions that must be addressed. The Applied Research Center’s report outlines how racism hurt both the hearts and wallets of people of color during this very recession.
  • The solutions to the problem of racism help us all. I’m not a fan of playing the race card unjustifiably. However, when we justly and ethically deal with racist norms, policies and practices, all people benefit.
    • Fair lending practices benefit all people looking to qualify for a home or car loan.
    • Fair admissions & financial aid policies make college education accessible for all students.
    • A more responsible police force better protects all members of community.

One Love. One II.