"We didn't address the problems when they were only issues of morality and justice. Maybe we'll address them now that they've become issues of self-preservation."

Balance: Prisons, Crime…Where Are We Going?

December 5th, 2015

The year of 2015 nears the end as the world is finding itself with many challenges yet.  Prisons? More crime, terror, more prisons?  No money for public schools?  Public safety is costly.  Injustice is prisons are the dumping ground for serious mentally ill people that need institutions designed for mental health not prisons? This essay is about balance of justice and injustice.  The future means what for American society?    Violence is still causing the world suffering and remains a constant.  Domestic violence, street violence, child abuse, sexual abuse and animal abuse is not contained to any one place in America or the globe.  I propose that as we find conflict everyday it seems that we begin this new year with a mindset that considers a higher level of thinking.  Considering a sense of humanity that might give us new horizons.  I want  individuals and collective bodies of human beings to think about justice in a way that can allow forgiveness, and redemption.  It is something to say the word justice.  Society somehow finds millions of dollars for buying out college football coaches when the alumni is not happy, 15-20 million dollars?   Some say justice yet they really mean revenge, an eye for an eye.  I want to think about major reform of our penal system in the United States of America.  A true reformation that uplifts humanity and focuses on a balance that allows a systemic reconstruction of treatment of transgressors.

Politicians, private business, those who feel that a blanket of punishment is working need to rethink the true sense of justice.  The new technology will cost a great deal.  It will also probably replace a lot of prison guards?   It is injustice to many in this world that is adding a dimension of discontent, resentment that is taking over many communities. More prisons is not going to solve the job issue in Michigan?   The domestic arms movement is not really answering the need to begin a more harmonious understanding to the challenges of violence, outlaw societies.  What have we really improve over the past century in our democracy in relations to reducing crime?  More prisons?    Justice for our citizens has become sending many to prisons with a disturbing reality of forever.  Without any reservations this message understands the seriousness of heinous crimes such as homicides, sexual assaults, rapes and domestic violence.  The accounting of such crimes must hold those who break laws responsible.  Somewhere our society is entangled with the morality and commerce of such undertakings.  America holds more people in prisons than any democratic nation in the world.  Prisons serve an important role in public safety.  The injustice that needs balancing must include the sentencing of transgressors.  The sensitivity of taboo subjects such as prison conditions, death penalty have been silent much to long.  The length of sentencing is something that should remind society of both the moral aspect and fiscally the growing cost of such practices.  The question in my review of justice falls hard on the racial and class challenges of young people who are many times children, teens and young when they have committed horrific crimes.  In Michigan I have studied, conversed, pondered and wondered why our nation has continued to unfairly locked people up forever without considering the impact on society within a more just manner.  I understand the need for corrections of those who make decisions that hurt society.  I also know that we should consider the situations, evidence of solid social science refuting the unfairness of locking up people forever for transgressions that many times happened over decades earlier.  Raymond Carr, Jr. is one such human being that has atoned for his serious transgression of murdering another human being in a failed robbery at the young age of 19 years old.  His first degree murder sentence is a serious challenge for the prison system.  Being locked up so young means taxpayers will pay to keep him for a long time…forever.  I am advocating the flexibility to adjust, review such people as Carr who many including prison officials is not the same young man who got entangled with street culture.  No excuses he clearly understands and regrets his role in this crime.

In the last decade I have developed a relationship with this young man in my study of penal systems and their impact on society.  This young man who is now served over twenty three years is not the same person.  Should we consider his heinous crime?   Should we investigate who he has lived in the penal system for his sin in the last decades?  The moral dilemma is critical in a democracy that is designed to punish its citizens for their transgressions within its communities.  Should society consider the victim, their families in such discussions?   Indeed, consider, confer and establish a communication if at all possible.  My bias is within a fact that I came from the same community of Raymond Carr, Junior.  I went to junior high school, high school as his late father Raymond Carr, senior.  Friends, no not really.  Raymond was more than an associate, I would say he was from a hardworking blue collar family in our beloved blue collar homeland of Detroit.  His father and Uncle Eddie were my schoolmates and I knew them to be like so many good people in my community during the 60s, 70s.  I knew of Raymond Junior from street investigations in my earlier years of ethnography in my old neighborhood.  Tough, yes, bias only by my forthright admittance that I lived in this same community.  The first time I was visiting a Michigan prison  I looked at him, a tall, well built handsome replica of his father.  His spirit was warm on that visit in Detroit at Ryan Prison.  The then Governor Jennifer Granholm had asked for my review of a proposed program with a group of lifers in which Raymond Jr.  was a member.  I had been in prisons over the years in my study of urban life experiences.  The visit with the Lifer Group at Ryan Prison was a powerful  experience that gave credence to my own personal conviction that our handling of prisons  is in great need of reconstruction.  This group of human beings incarcerated proved to be much more than the stereotype of lifers in prisons.  Prisons are needed for a democratic society.  They must be more humane, and the sentencing more sensible.  Mental health issues are serious with our prisons and jails acting as our pseudo mental health caregiver the problem is even more troubling.  The privatization of prisons is seriously a sad commentary.  We have the resources especially those who have returned to society to reconstruct and maintain a more just outcome.  The injustice is troubling when society allows the distortion of the situation for many men and women who have broken society codes, laws.  If not the moral factor then America should consider the fiscal reality that in the State of Michigan the cost of prisons is the largest cost in the state budget.  Journalist Ta-Nishi Coates has stated that prisons are the social services for many communities today.  In the October cover story in The Atlantic, Coates outlined the perils, failure of the American prison system and its impact on the African American family, community.  The dilemma of locking away young men at the age of 19 years old like  Raymond Carr are not to excuse his transgression.  It is the prevention of the young ruining their lives.  Prisons cost a great deal of money.  Private prisons cost regardless of their so-called discount of cost to taxpayers. Education, especially the demise of public education is costly.  How much has the demise of tax payers dollars go to prisons opposed to schools or social services?  No, not advocating to ignore prison cost.  Need smart, well ran prisons with programs to assist the return of solid citizens.  Society is challenged both morally and fiscally with this conflict of what to do?   In the long history we should have realized that America can not lock up, beat up or kill this challenge with draconian methods.  Human capital, humanity, fairness, and yes an accounting for the victims in this challenge needs close attention.  The injustice is not punishing those who have broken the law.  It is the unforgiving, refusal of consideration  and unwillingness to take on the challenge to allow Raymond Carr, Jr. an accounting that reviews what has taken place since his transgression of his earlier life.  Not a cry to open up prisons and allow those who have not changed their thinking about living in a non violent, civil manner.  It is an undertaking that will need faith-based institutions, education, family guidance and serious roads to education/training for legal employment.  Political rhetoric, fear mongering, divisive means of racial hatred, disconnection from society has not worked in the past century?  The Lifers Group with the assistance of the faith-based organizations led by moral leadership of Bishop Chui from the Shrine of the Black Madonna, Minister Victor Muhammad from the Nation of Islam coupled with the Lifers Group Darryl Woods, Senior and others have changed, detour many young men headed in the wrong direction.  The program is an outstanding model.  Keith Bennett of Goodwill Industries, has led the much acclaimed Flip The Script program to support young people to re-enter society. Virgil A. Taylor, Charles Jackson and a team of professionals are giving evidence that strong support programs can re-direct those who have transgressed in society.  Dr Pamela R Smith, a researcher, colleague from Michigan State University sociology department is focusing on families, young girls, females relationship in the prison experience.

Last, I am underscoring the work that many transgressors must understand what their future holds?  Education in the prisons has been reduced a great deal during the earlier years of politicians rallying with get tough policy.  The public cheers not understanding that an educated, trained young person is a better solution to return to their respected communities.  Those who refuse, show they are not capable to reform themselves will find a long life in prisons.  America needs to understand the investment in education, training, family education, social workers, mental health workers for the prison communities.  The moral leadership does exist with successful men, women who have been incarcerated today showing solid citizenship.  We have noticed the progressive police leadership of Chief Anthony D. Holt from Wayne State University working in communities to assist the re-entry.  Raymond Carr, Jr. is worthy of a honest review for his release after a quarter of a century in prison.  He is a solid model citizen, a Christian pastor, author, and a person who has atoned for  his transgressions at an earlier time in his life.  Let us consider how to seriously reform prisons and the human beings incarcerated.  We have a rich collection of experts, experienced people like Lansing attorney a former parole board member Laurin Thomas  who continues her study, research of how to reform our complex penal  system.