HOW WOULD YOU FIX THE PRISON PROBLEM?
 
 ---- Original Message ----- 
From: Taoss - Sherry Swiney 
To: letters@montgomeryadvertiser.com 
Sent: Saturday, May 10, 2003 12:28 AM
Subject: Montgomery Advertiser - letter to the editor

May 9, 2003
 
Dear Montgomery Advertiser: 
 
re: Selection will be printed 5/11, Sunday.
In response to your 5/8/03 letter to editor page, "How would you fix [the] prison problem," I offer the following:
 
Donal Campbell, DOC Commissioner is correct when he says that the prison system is broken.  He is not correct when he says it will take years to fix the problem even if the DOC received 146 million dollar funding in the 2004 budget.  How can I say that?
 
The problem is not money, but rather that Alabama is arresting too many people and giving them sentences that are too long (sentences that do not fit the crime).  In fact, Alabama's criminal justice system is broken, which feeds the already broken prison system.  The courts and lawyers (judges, prosecution and defense) have adopted a callous view of US Constitutional rights where the majority of the agents of the court act as though they believe it is okay to fabricate evidence that doesn't exist.  After all, who is going to challenge (1) the bad laws on the books, (2) prosecutorial misconduct, and (3) ineffective assistance of counsel?
 
The first thing I would do is hold all judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers accountable for any harm that has been done to the innocent people who are thrown into Alabama's prisons in their effort to (1) "win at all costs", (2) close a sensitive or politically-charged case with alacrity, or (3) finish up a case because hunting season is right around the corner.  To hold these people accountable, who are duty-bound to honor their fiduciary public and private trust, means that they would suffer in kind.  In other words, if they are responsible for inflicting wrongful imprisonment upon an individual, they would spend a like amount of time in prison.  If we did that, the court's agents would turn honest and forthright overnight and it wouldn't cost the tax payers a
dime.  The DOJ estimates that 5% or more people in this nation are wrongfully imprisoned.  Alabama alone incarcerates more people ''per capita" than any other state in the nation.  But let us assume that there are only 5% of the 27,000+ Alabama prisoners who are actually innocent.  Do the math.  5% of 27,000 is 1,350 people who could come home right now without costing the tax payers a dime, and without being a danger to the public.
 
The problem is that the court's agents refuse to hear these cases.  Why?  Because that's the Alabama way.  I would change that.  I would appoint a committee to re-open and thoroughly examine and investigate every case of claimed innocence in Alabama.  It is not true that all prisoners claim innocence, and it is not true that all prisoners are guilty.
 
As for the prison system being broken, the first thing I would do is acquire an entirely new staff in the Department of Corrections. Much of the current staff has been with the DOC, which has become thoroughly corrupted, through at least three terms of commissioners.  Now is the time to start with a completely fresh foot forward, one that is opposed to human rights violations such as physical, mental, emotional, and medical abuse.  When the DOC staff hides or denies the truth that is reported to them by family members of prisoners, the tax payers pay because (1) there is no "correcting" going on, and (2) lawsuits cost the state a lot of
money.  The public needs to realize that most people in prison get out on parole or end of sentence (EOS).  

When they do, they are

(1) not prepared to re-enter society, (2) not welcomed back into society, (3) not allowed to vote, (4) not given an opportunity to work and get their lives put back together, and (5) not forgiven for the mistakes they made that put them into prison in the first place. This current paradigm creates high recidivism rates, otherwise called the "revolving door" syndrome.  I would change that.
 
I would ensure, through bonafide and measurable educational programs, through bonafide and measurable rehabilitation programs, that prisoners were rehabilitated and ready to re-enter society before they were released.  In the front end, this would cost the tax payers but in the end, it would save the tax payers because the cost of "corrective" imprisonment would ensure the closure of the "revolving door".  When there is more of the state's budget being spent on prisons than on education, the public should sit up and take notice that something is gravely wrong with such a system.  Higher education reduces crime. Rehabilitating prisoners reduces crime.  When crime is reduced, there are fewer victims of crime.  Every victims rights organization should promote rehabilitation of prisoners for the simple fact that rehabilitation reduces crime.  Every politician
should promote rehabilitation of prisoners for the simple fact that reducing crime improves the economy and benefits everyone with the exception of those who make a living in the prison industry.  We do no need more prisons.  We need more institutions of learning.
 
Currently, our politicians and media have pushed Punishment over Correction.  Retribution over Restitution.  Now we are seeing the effects of this, and it's breaking the economy, plain and simple.  So, to "fix the prison system" will take common sense by all parties involved, and that includes the commissioner, the governor, the prisoners, the families of prisoners, and the communities as well.  The one thing that Alabama has not yet realized is that we are all in this sinking boat together, whether we are rich or poor, powerful or meek, involved or oblivious - if the boat sinks, we all suffer.
 
Respectfully,
Sherry Swiney
Director, P.A.T.R.I.C.K. Crusade
P.O. Box 1891, Alabaster, AL 35007
Tel: 205-621-7699
www.patrickcrusade.org
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking 
we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein


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