Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mina Post 2

For my research, I would like to focus on women exiting the prison system and how they are reintegrated back into family and community life as well as larger social and political institutions. While this is a bit of a hot topic now as more and more academics and social justice groups are critiquing the criminal justice system in the United States and the phenomenon of mass incarceration that has emerged in the last few decades, I felt like there was a gap in the literature about not only what happens to many people after they exit prison, especially after a significant amount of time, but what the best methods are for those labeled “criminal” in our society to reintegrate back into “normal” society. The recidivism rate for ex-offenders is very high with 60% of women returning to prison after being released and about 1/3 of them returning within three years of release. This is due not only to the institutional failure of prisons to actually rehabilitate inmates and prepare them for life afterward, but also the extreme stigma associated with criminality.

At the institutional level, a criminal record is a perfectly valid and legal reason to discriminate against someone, extending to job discrimination, discrimination from all social welfare services, and even political disenfranchisement through revoked voting rights. Ex-offenders find it difficult to find gainful employment and secure housing that would better ensure stability and greatly reduce their chances of going back to the criminal activities that landed them in prison in the first place. Also, on an interpersonal level, the stigma attached to criminality can cause ex-offenders to be estranged from friends and family upon return, which can be very isolating, especially for someone who will need a lot of support to get back on their feet. Family and friends can also be greatly affected by the shame and stigma of the “criminal” label on their loved one. The irony in all this is that since incarceration disproportionately affects poorer communities and communities of color, many neighbors share this experience of at least knowing someone close to them who has been incarcerated, but because of the stigma attached to criminality, many do not share these experiences aloud and instead feel further isolated in their own neighborhoods, faith communities, and workplaces.

Many would question the decision to focus on so-called “criminals,” people who have broken the law and are therefore somewhat deserving of the consequences. I would respond in two ways: 1) our prison population is disproportionately black, brown, and poor with women and juveniles representing the fastest growing segments of the incarcerated population. These people have not only fallen to unfortunate life circumstances that have directed them toward more times than not NON-VIOLENT crime, but they have also fallen victim to discriminatory law enforcement and criminal justice practices. 2) Yes, many people in prison have made some pretty bad decisions in life, but so what? What does that mean? Not inevitably the massive and expensive failure that is our prison system.

How we treat our “bad” citizens as nation says more about us than how we treat our “best” citizens (both in terms of criminality but also race, class, gender, and sexual orientation). Why invest billions of dollars a year annually in a system we know fails to curb crime but in fact helps to create it and keeps entire families, communities, and huge segments of our citizenry in social, political, and economic marginality all in the name of “punishment” and being “tough of crime?”

- Mina

1 comment:

  1. You have some great thoughts here Mina. You have put so many important ideas into words. I look forward to reading what you discover as you dig into these issues.