Archive for December, 2014

This is not your normal Christmas blog

At this time of year—a week before Christmas—most events have something to do with the holidays. But the event I attended on Thursday, December 18, was titled “The Summit on Reform, Re-Entry and Results: Promoting Progress in the Criminal Justice System”.   Governor Patrick gave the opening remarks and described this summit as a milestone marking 8 years of efforts in Massachusetts to bring about criminal justice reform.

It was heartening to hear reports of progress made in legislative reforms including CORI reform, sentencing reform, and parole board reform. Better data collection is leading to expanding programs that work well in reducing recidivism and dropping those that are ineffective. Groups in many communities reported of their efforts to provide more effective community policing and training and juvenile diversion programs.

December 19th, up close and personal

The following morning I packed up shopping bags filled with small bags of cookies and took them to our county correctional facilities. A fleet of fellow bakers had made dozens of cookies to give to the inmates at ecumenical Christmas concerts. As we handed out the festive bags at the end of the concerts, we shook hands and looked into the eyes of each of the several hundred men who attended and thanked them for coming as they wished us a happy Christmas—knowing they would not be home for the holidays.

For many years I have had a small connection with the criminal justice system by participating regularly in a religious service at our country correctional facilities. In recent years, my interest has greatly deepened as a wide range of injustices have been exposed in the news media, in films, in books and in what I hope is becoming a national conversation about how to address these issues. Progress is being made in some places, but we have far to go to establish a human justice system that seeks to heal the problems of the criminal justice system.

My daily reminderger

Each day, I look at a little symbol that reminds me of the need to work for progress in criminal justice around the world: a ger (Mongolian nomadic home, perhaps more familiar to some as a yurt—the Russian name) made of rolled pieces of paper by prisoners in Mongolian jails. The ger is about 2 inches in diameter and an inch high. A group called Prison Fellowship Mongolia showed the men how to make them using only paper and thread—they aren’t allowed to have scissors or needles. Each ger takes two days for an inmate to make and then it’s sold for a small amount to buy a little food for themselves and to give to their families. I have met some of these men—and boys—and the same phrase always comes into my mind: “They don’t belong in here.”

A few days ago, I read an article from WBUR’s cognoscenti writer, Donald M. Berwick. He writes: “Improvement is a three-part challenge: First, reduce the number of people who are sent to prison; second, use incarceration as an opportunity to intervene in lives – often young lives – that have gone off the tracks; and, third, provide sensible supports for re-entry from prison back into normal, productive life.”

Please join me in finding ways to respond to this challenge.

Here are a few books, films and links I have found illuminating and often alarming about what is happening in criminal justice in America:

*   Frontline documentary Stickup Kid
*   The Central Park Five documentary from Ken Burns

The Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of the five teenagers whose lives were upended by this miscarriage of justice.

Book:  The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Two books by David R. Dow:
     Things I’ve Learned from Dying: A Book About Life

     The Autobiography of an execution

Book: Just Mercy : A story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Book: Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-year Journey from Prison to Peace by Michael Morton



December 23, 2014 at 4:46 am 1 comment

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