Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Roanoke Times Editorial Addresses the Need to Reform our Criminal Justice System

The Roanoke Times published an editorial yesterday that discussed the closing of the Natural Bridge jail, which had housed some prisoners who had committed nonviolent crimes. What sparked the writing was the many people in the community who were concerned about prisoners being transferred from an institution with programs that helped them transition back to being a productive member of society to ones that simply focused on the punishment of incarceration rather than rehabilitation. The editorial argued that this concern was legitimate and also suggested the solution should be to look into other alternatives instead of simply reinvesting in the Natural Bridge facility.
The response, though, should not be to pour money back into Virginia correctional facilities that the governor closed to balance the state's budget. The response should be to rethink corrections, and how the commonwealth goes about trying to reduce crime and recidivism by turning around the lives of far more people than Natural Bridge could help.

One way is to make more use of advancing technology to allow sentencing alternatives that keep less serious offenders from behind bars in the first place and give them the incentives to stay that way.
I agree with the editorial board here. Our corrections system should be focused on addressing the issues that lead to criminal behavior and creating a system in which people can be given a chance to succeed in life while keeping our communities safe. Sitting in a jail cell for an extended period of time isn't the most efficient way for a person to contribute to society. In fact, systems that are designed for incarceration instead of rehabilitation frequently result in people being put back into society with no thought to how they could actually obtain the skills necessary to avoid making the same mistakes that caused them to be arrested in the first place.

Allowing a person to improve their lives through being gainfully employed while addressing their issues and being monitored through various methods, however, has a much better chance of creating a situation where the person will no longer engage in illegal behavior. In the long run this means that the community would be safer because people wouldn't turn to crime. Furthermore, it will save the Commonwealth the administrative costs of jailing someone -- something that could be extremely beneficial during a time when Virginia's facing tough economic times.

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in this area and the process could take awhile since so many politicians avoid the topic because they don't want to be accused of being soft on crime. Fortunately, there are some organizations that are willing to help get the message across that prison reform is something that needs to be addressed. Between that and some of the work that Jim Webb is doing on the topic, there could potentially be some reforms made relatively soon that would ensure people are treated in a just manner while also helping to decrease criminal behavior and keeping our communities safe.

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