Are We Serious About Reducing the Prison Population?
Not many days ago, I had the opportunity to serve as a facilitator of a breakout session for Shelby County’s Operation: Safe Community during a town hall meeting. The purpose of the town hall was to lay the framework for Operation: Safe Community 3. The session I facilitated was “Repeat Offenders”, which was combined with the “Alternatives to Incarceration” session. During the session, one of our topics was the conflict of interest that the State of Tennessee has concerning criminal justice due to its contract with the private prison, CCA, that requires that the facility remain 90% occupied. If the 90% benchmark is not met, the state will pay.
I operate an ex-offender reentry program, and our mission is to reduce recidivism in Shelby County. Reducing recidivism means keeping people from re-offending and being incarcerated. I made the case during our session that the reality of the state’s position is oxymoronic. The system has flaws that need to be addressed- immediately. Our program, in this climate, is a direct threat to the state’s position, and I am sure it is unintended.
In a recent Huffington Post article, Mississippi Jails Are Losing Inmates, And Local Officials Are ‘Devastated’ By The Loss Of Revenue, this is a direct quote, “’If they do not send us our inmates back, we can’t make it,” said one county supervisor.” Clearly, this is a conflict.
During our session, I offered an example. Our program equips men and women that have felony convictions with the tools necessary to stay out of the prison system. With that in mind, how can the state fund our program (which is not currently happening) at $1,000 per individual to keep them out of the system, when the contract with the private prison has an agreement to remain 90% occupied? Will the state pay us $1,000 to keep the bed empty AND pay $1,000 to the prison for the empty bed ($2,000 for an empty bed)? While those numbers are hypothetical, the theory isn’t. And the actual numbers are higher. How do we reconcile this?
If we are sincere in our efforts to reduce crime and the prison population, we need to come up with a system that makes sense and is fair. The shadow games must end. I am hopeful that this can be accomplished.
UPDATE: Read this!!!