By April Dye, Contributor
I have to be honest, I never really thought about criminal justice reform. I pretty much just thought “do the crime, do the time.” But I was asked for my thoughts on the subject from a financial perspective as well as my thoughts as a Christian. I have to say that the Christian perspective really made me think. As a Christian, was I looking at people in jail through the eyes of Jesus or as a Pharisee? If I had to be honest, it was through the eyes of a self-centered, judgmental Pharisee.
Let me explain. Every day, I pray for the lost. I pray that someone would cross their path who has an influence in their life that would turn them towards Jesus, through their actions, words or lifestyle. I pray for those who are being deceived into serving other god’s and feel it is their responsibility to “cleanse” the world of the infidels; and yet I was unsympathetic to those who have found themselves incarcerated. It wasn’t out of hatefulness but it was out of a lack of empathy. I use the motto “walk in love” in how I try to see people. I always try to put myself in their place to empathize with others. I try to look at people in hard times as a soul in need of saving. Yet, I had put that aside when it came to those who found themselves in a place where they needed a helping hand not in validating their choices but in loving them enough to hear the cry for help in their behavior.
I went back to several scenarios in my life either in something I had seen or experienced to try and re-evaluate my thoughts on this matter of Criminal Justice Reform.
The first thought that came to me was a television movie I saw when I was an adolescent. It had Martin Sheen as a father of a son (his real life son, Emilio Estevez) who had been arrested for vandalism or something like that. Martin decided to teach his son a lesson and let him spend the night in jail. Unfortunately, during the night an inmate in his cell tried to sexual abuse Emilio. In his panic and fighting off his attacker the man subsequently died. So Emilio is then sent to jail for murder. How horrible and unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think what Martin did was wrong. He had the best intention. His son was headed down the wrong way and he thought this would show him what can happen if you don’t shape up. My point in this story is how it has been proven that many times a non-violent offender can and have had to become violent or more of a criminal due to the atmosphere within the correctional facility community.
Now since being asked about my thoughts on this matter, I have done some research and looked into exactly what is being proposed for this reform. Well these people who have researched and carefully thought out these reforms believe and I am entitled to agree with them, that of course it starts at home and in our communities. Parents, of all races and communities, need to be paying attention to their children and giving them role models to look up to who aren’t criminals but men and women who work hard and take care of their families.
Community policing has proven to be a great way for the police and the communities to become friendly with each other and show love to each other. It shows the community the police care about them as people and that they aren’t against them but actually for them. It also helps the police to get to know the communities and the people in them. I saw a story the other day about a mother who called the police because her autistic son was getting agitated. Because the police were familiar with this young boy they knew that he loved the police and their presence would give him some peace and one of the officers started doing push-ups and had the boy do them with him and told him that doing push-ups would help him when he was feeling agitated to calm down and help him re-focus. There are police officers like Tommy Norman and Bryan Woodward who patrol their neighborhoods and get out and talk to the kids and adults in the community and post their interactions on Facebook, which makes those they are interacting with feel important and included.
These interactions help communities see that there are people who can help them if they are in a bind or feel they are in need of help, instead of looking to gangs or drug dealers as a group who can help them if they need it.
One of the easiest, in idea if not in practicality, is once a person has committed a crime and they are brought before a court they need to be given Pre-Trial Representation. The first time in court is usually the time that bail is set. 3 out of 4 inmates are in for non-violent crimes and 6 out of 10 are in jail waiting on a trial in local jails. The cost per inmate a month adds up to a staggering amount of money in local jails. The bail for some of these offenders is so high that they cannot afford to pay it, which leaves them unable to go to jobs to be able to pay bail, or even to pay the child support, etc., that may have been the reason for their arrest in the first place.
With a legal representative at the initial court appearance the individual has someone who knows what would be appropriate bail toward the crime, if it should even go to court and what recourse they have. We hear so much about how some individuals feel they are not represented well, that they were taken advantage of which becomes a circle of mistrust and more often than not re-arrest. If these individuals had representatives at bail hearings and let their families attend the individual would more likely feel they were treated fairly.
There are other services being discussed and actually done in some communities such as Police Diversion, Rapid Intake Review, Reclassifying Certain Offenses as Non-Jailable Misdemeanors, Dispute Resolution and Including Risk in Bond Schedules and Expedited Referrals to Pre-Trail Supervision.
I guess as a Christian, after I read up on all of these things, I started to see the person and not just the offense. These non-violent criminals have made mistakes, as we all do – some worse than others (in man’s eyes not God’s), and don’t need their lives ruined or scarred for life.
I would never advocate for a violent criminal who has hurt others to be given these chances, not because I don’t believe they as well need saving, but not at the expense of hurting someone again if they happen to get off. I am not on the side of “once you find Jesus you should be let out of jail,” because you are forgiven and have a change of heart. I truly believe those who have found Jesus in jail who have done a violent crime realize that yes they are forgiven by God but that they still should be held accountable for the actions; to me that would show the fruit of a repentant heart.
We really need to look at each case individually and look at the circumstances surrounding these criminal acts and try to find ways that we can help these people find other alternatives to the circumstances in which they find themselves. It is a cost to taxpayers to house and feed these individuals as they wait for their time in court or finish out their stays. It costs these individuals in many ways; it costs them in employment – both current and future – and because of the lack of a job they can lose their homes, or even their families, which in turn could make them once again desperate individuals who make bad choices.
While I live my life and teach my children to do those things which are lawful and not harmful to others, we should be able to agree we have someone in our lives or know someone who has made decisions that have hurt themselves and others. We are all in need of help in one form or another; our cities, states and nation all need help in one form or another, and especially in the financial and law enforcement areas. We need to take the time to look at real decisions that affect us financially and especially spiritually.
In recent months the Republican Party has been offering an agenda, a “Better Way” for America to address a wide array of topics, including urban issues involving poverty, education, employment and criminal justice reform. These reforms would of course greatly benefit the many people living in urban America, but they would benefit our country as a whole, and for those reasons, these reforms are worth undertaking. There are lives to change, lives of our fellow countrymen. This is the right thing to do.