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Can America move beyond mass incarceration? (audio)

Incarceration, Reimagined

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Many Americans question the complex role of the U.S. justice system. And over the course of our podcast, “Perception Gaps: Locked Up,” we’ve taken a hard look at what we think we know about who we lock up and why, how much we spend on this massive institution, and the people and communities the system has left behind.

Today, in the season’s final episode, we ask: How do we chart a way forward?

Answers to this question, understandably, vary. Some believe we should follow the example of other nations that operate more humane, rehabilitative prisons. Others say we should adopt models that help reconcile people who have caused harm with those they’ve hurt. Still others want better support for communities, including survivors of crime and the formerly incarcerated. And some want a justice system without prisons and jails at all.

But the key, they all say, is a willingness to imagine other ways of pursuing justice – instead of relying so heavily on incarceration. 

“We really need to think outside the box,” says Baz Dreisinger, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who has studied justice systems around the world. “We need to shake up our ideas about prison, and we need to think about what really builds safe communities.”

Is the economy running fast or slow? It depends where you look.

Note: This is Episode 6 of Season 2. To listen to the other episodes and sign up for the newsletter, please visit the “Perception Gaps: Locked Up” main page. 

This audio story was designed to be heard. We strongly encourage you to experience it with your ears, but we understand that is not an option for everybody. You can find the audio player above. For those who are unable to listen, we have provided a transcript of the story below.

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

Disclaimer: Just a warning. This episode contains descriptions of drug use and violence, including gun violence and sexual assault. Please be advised.

[Music]

Samantha Laine Perfas: The U.S. justice system is complex. Many of us have ideas about its processes, its power, and its pitfalls. And over the past five episodes, we’ve taken a hard look at what we think we know about who we lock up and why; how much we spend on this massive institution; and the people and communities the system has left behind. 

Today, in our final episode of the season, we ask: How do we chart a way forward?

This … is Perception Gaps. 

[Theme music]

I’m Samantha Laine Perfas, and this is “Perception Gaps: Locked Up” by The Christian Science Monitor.

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Before we dive in, I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who’s joined us on this journey so far. We’ve loved having you along! And we’d really appreciate it if you could rate and review us on your podcast app or wherever you’re listening. We can’t wait to hear your thoughts. 

If you’re just joining us now, or want to learn more about the show, you can find everything at csmonitor.com/perceptiongaps. 

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I want to start with a big takeaway we’ve had from this season. It turns out that a lot of the issues facing our justice system today can be traced back to our tendency as a country to turn to incarceration as a solution to our problems. 

But over the past couple decades, policy experts, advocates, and the public have started to realize that maybe locking people up the way we have is not the only, or the best, way to go. There’s been growing support for justice reform. And the issue – maybe surprisingly – is one of the very few in America today that isn’t split strictly along partisan lines. 

Michele Deitch: There’s not that much polarization on criminal justice reform issues. The left and the right have long advocated for changes in this area. I think that there is support for evidence-based approaches that are effective and that don’t harm people. And that also ends up costing less money, while getting better results. 

Sam: That’s Michele Deitch. She teaches social policy at the University of Texas at Austin. We’ll be hearing a lot more from her later. But for now, her point is, there’s been a lot of discussion on both sides of the aisle about what our justice system could look like, if we centered it on something other than incarceration. 

What if, for example, we focused on why people commit crimes in the first place? Or, what if we asked the people involved – both the person who caused harm and the one who was harmed – what they thought they needed? 

Today we’re exploring some of these questions, and talking to different stakeholders about their visions for transforming our justice system. 

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Reuben Miller: Our first response has been to call the police. Our first response has been to lock somebody up and away from us who’s caused us harm. But, ‘What works?’ is a very important question. What’s the best way to address the harm that’s been done? Are there options beyond just sending someone to prison? 

My name is Reuben Miller. I teach at the University of Chicago, in the School of Social Service Administration.

Sam: Reuben has spent the past 15 years working with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. He’s got a book coming out in February about his research. We asked him: What causes crime in the first place? 

Reuben: Some theories of crime suggest that people commit crimes when they lack material resources, that many crimes are related to poverty. The lack of ability to move up and through the world, in part produces lots of the crime and criminality that we see. It produces the need for an illicit economy – drug dealing, theft, even crimes of violence, because of the kinds of tensions that we see when people are rendered and stay poor.

And then on the back end, so someone gets arrested, they spend some time in jail or prison, they’re released. And they’re not able to participate in the formal labor market anymore, because of the thousands of laws and policies that bar people from whole categories of employment. And so the relationship happens both before and after release.

Sam: But Reuben also noted that not all crime is related to poverty. 

Reuben: Crime also comes from places of pleasure. Some people commit crimes, I believe, because they want to. And so white collar criminality, sex offenses, all these sorts of things need a regulatory mechanism. The question is, is that mechanism the prison?

Sam: Does the current structure of the justice system take into account the root causes of crime? And why or why not? 

Reuben: No, I don’t think so, because for some of those, the way that we’ve engineered society contributes to how and why people commit crimes. And so I think it implicates us. And then some of the reasons that people commit crimes aren’t easily explained away. And so some of the complexity contributes to how and why we respond to crime and criminality when we see it.

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Sam: Everyone we spoke to for this episode touched on a similar theme, which is: We need to reimagine, to one degree or another, what justice looks like in this country. And that’s hard.

For some, it means rethinking how we house those we want to separate from society, so that those spaces are built to help people work through their issues. Others say it’s about making sure formerly incarcerated people can re-enter society in a meaningful way.

There are also those who say it’s about remaking the system entirely. 

Stacey Borden: How can we even imagine building a world without prisons? What does that mean? How can we hold ourselves accountable for the harm that we’ve caused in our past? And how can we help another individual heal from the harm that was caused to them and the harm that they continuously cause? Because hurt people hurt people. 

My name is Stacey Borden. I’m formerly incarcerated. I’m a licensed clinician. I work for the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.

Sam: We got in touch with Stacey and her colleague, Romilda Pereira because their lives show just how complicated all this can be. Both women have spent a lot of time behind bars – but also a lot of time trying to understand why. Why did they make the choices they did? Where did the system fail them? And what needs to change so that others don’t have to go through what they did? 

Here’s Romilda, who serves as director of programming at Families for Justice as Healing, a Boston area nonprofit. 

Romilda Pereira: I think for me it was anger management. My first arrest was out of Madison Park High. I was 14 years old. I was acting out, rebelling out of anger. I grew up in an abusive household. So for me, that’s how you handled situations. And I was in and out of court and through that, you know, charges started piling up. It just kept going. And then you aged out, and it’s like you graduated – from there to county to state prison. 

Stacey: For me, you know, I suffered from sexual assault very early, and I just didn’t know that I was suffering mentally. And I started using drugs early. And my first arrest, too, was possession with intent to distribute cocaine. 

And cocaine for many, many years, was my friend. I just felt like I could only function in that manner. I really didn’t have a voice. And so I kind of lived in darkness for many years.

Sam: Both women spent years cycling through prison in the state of Massachusetts. And neither denies that they’ve caused harm to others at some point in their lives. But each has also been harmed, in deep and lasting ways. And they say that nothing about their experiences with the justice system really addressed any of that. 

Stacey: I just didn’t know how to process the sexual assault, and not one person in those courtrooms – not one attorney, probation officer, judge – asked, ‘What is wrong? What can we help you with? Why do you keep doing the same thing over and over expecting something different?’ 

Sam: And so for these women, the goal is abolition: to end the need for prisons entirely. Their vision involves creating spaces that address trauma and make room for reconciliation. 

Stacey: Had my rapist had the opportunity – you know, if I had the opportunity today to have him stand in front of me, imagine what that would look like. Imagine him hearing in my pain. Imagine me telling him I don’t want him to go in and suffer. Imagine having that type of conversation. And allowing him to express his own pain.

Stop perpetuating the idea that they’re just so no good that we’re going to bury you under the jail. How is that justice?

Romilda: Prison and jail is never the answer. I’m against anyone who’s going to commit a crime. But I’m also going to tell you, those people need help. You know, they’re sick. Something has happened. They’ve been touched before. So let’s build a treatment center so that person gets help, so that person doesn’t come back out and rape someone else. Because we all know it continues to happen. 

I’m not going to tell you to come in here and give everybody ice cream and lobster. But let me tell you how we can reimagine our communities. Let me tell you how we can reinvest in the people, where we don’t have to have a prison. Our plans that are in place now are not working. So it’s time for us to try something new.

Sam: In some ways, the idea is shocking. End prisons entirely? But Reuben Miller, the University of Chicago scholar we talked to earlier, said that to understand abolition advocates, we need to go back to the word “reimagine.” 

Reuben: I think whether or not you think that prison abolition is the way to go, the exercise of reimagining how justice should work is a necessary exercise. The abolitionist position forces us to reimagine what the world would look like without jails or prisons. It forces us to think about who should respond to questions of violence if we didn’t have police. It forces us to ask what the most appropriate way to respond to questions of material need would be if the police weren’t the first responders. It asks: What do we do with people who’ve harmed us if we don’t send them to jails or prisons? 

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Sam: Reuben is careful not to take a stand on abolition himself. But there are people and organizations already trying to make it a reality. One coalition, from out of Los Angeles, is called Californians United for a Responsible Budget, or CURB. They bring together more than 80 organizations, most of which are for prison abolition.

Amber-Rose Howard: Our mission is to reduce the number of prisons, jails, and detention centers – so all cages – in the state of California, and to make sure that we’re spending on what we envision a public safety model should look like, which would center care and respect the humanity of people. It would not be coming from a punishment lens, but from – from a people lens. 

Sam: This is Amber-Rose Howard. She’s CURB’s executive director. Her vision sounds a lot like what Stacey and Romilda described. But to get that done, CURB focuses on the money. 

Amber-Rose: We can transform the way that we look at accountability by putting dollars into health and human services, resources in communities, so that harm is not perpetuated. So maybe it looks like a cap on sentencing. Maybe it looks like working toward emptying prisons and rebuilding different kinds of spaces where community can help center the healing of folks. Shift the money away and build out a different model. 

Sam: Recently, #DefundthePolice and other divestment campaigns have led people to pay more attention to budgets. Amber-Rose, who’s been working in this space for years, says there’s now more openness toward discussing prison abolition.

But not everyone’s on board. For those who are skeptical about closing prisons entirely, there’s a concern that the movement is advocating for ending prisons tomorrow – with no exit plan or path forward. Is that the case?

Amber-Rose: So I’ll say this: I would love for that to happen. I’d love for thousands of people to be released tomorrow. Because I know thousands of people who are connected to people who are incarcerated and just want their loved one home. Abolitionists are saying, we should release people. 

And we’re saying that we know that that is not going to happen overnight. We have to be able to get victories in reform that would be able to build toward prison closure. And we know that that has to sometimes happen incrementally, obviously, and history proves that. But we want to get to a space where we don’t rely on the system of corrections to run public safety. So – so yes, I think it’s both of those things.  

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Sam: Prison abolition may have gained momentum in recent years. But again, many people – including some who’ve been in prison – are still reluctant to say incarceration has no role in our society. We reached out to Kevin Garrett, who was formerly incarcerated and now works at the Texas Jail Project, a nonprofit in Austin, Texas.

Sam: Do you think prisons are necessary at all? Do we need them? 

Kevin Garrett: I – yes. That’s not an emphatic yes, I mean, but, yes. As bad as my experience was in prison, I also saw a lot of individuals who didn’t have a substance abuse issue, who didn’t have a mental health issue. I mean, they came from good families and stuff like that. And they were – well, they did horrible things. And for individuals like that, in an ordered society, yes. We have to have that.

Sam: Kevin served eight years of a 25-year sentence for the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. This was in 1994, when sentencing policies for relatively minor offenses were much harsher, especially for people who had priors – which Kevin did. Today the maximum jail sentence for the same crime in Texas is two years. 

Kevin was released on parole in 2001. Throughout his time in prison, he says, he saw dysfunction. People’s mental health issues were hardly acknowledged. He felt the approach was ‘one size fits all.’ Kevin says those are things we seriously need to rethink if our society is going to continue to rely on prisons.

But the issue he spoke most passionately about was what happens to people after they’re released. 

Kevin: Coming back into society was, for me, absolutely the most difficult part. Of course, there’s a huge relief to be out of that oppressive and traumatic environment. But when you get out, you’ve got a whole different set of challenges, housing being the number one. Housing and employment. You know, being forced to go back where all of your problems began in the first place was not really conducive to success. 

Sam: Kevin’s experience isn’t unique. Reuben Miller at the University of Chicago said re-entry is often a huge challenge. All formerly incarcerated people in the U.S. face laws and policies that regulate what they can do once they’re released, for example –

Reuben: – what jobs someone with a criminal record may hold. What nonprofit boards they can sit on. Whether or not they can run for public office. Whether or not somebody can adopt a child. It was just a few years ago that you couldn’t be a dog groomer once you got out of prison. 

Sam: Today there are more than 44,000 laws, policies, and administrative sanctions that apply to people with criminal records. For Kevin, that made it really tough to find work. In theory, parole policies are meant to monitor formerly incarcerated people, help rehabilitate them, and reduce the likelihood that they commit another crime. But:

Kevin: If you’re living in an area where job opportunities are scant before you went to prison and now you get out, you have a conviction on your back, then the obvious solution would be to try to get closer to where jobs are, to where employers are a little bit more understanding and will give you an opportunity. But the parole officer won’t let you move. And by the time you get approval to move, whatever job lead you might have gotten is gone. 

I had conditions of my release that I had to have full-time employment, attend twelve-step meetings, attend anger management. And I had to pay supervision fees. Which may not seem like, you know, it’s a difficult thing to do. But again, you’re asking a potential employer to hire you as a convicted felon and also give you enough time to attend twelve-step meetings, attend anger management. And then you don’t have transportation, and so a lot of your time is spent on public transportation, if you’re lucky enough to have that. I mean, so you could see how all of it is really just a perfect storm to set a person up to go back through that cycle.

Sam: How do you think reentry needs to be improved?

Kevin: We need to rethink, you know, some of the policies that are being used to supposedly help people stay out. I was very fortunate. My grandmother was my reentry program. I mean, she gave me the main thing that I needed. She gave me housing. But unfortunately, for a lot of people when they are released, they don’t have supports like that. And whether or not a person has a legitimate opportunity to successfully make it back into society, it shouldn’t be dependent on – on luck. 

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Jessica Mendoza: Hi everyone, I’m Jessica Mendoza. I’m a reporter with “Perception Gaps: Locked Up.” Because of listeners like you, we’re able to devote time to a podcast that goes deep into the issues. So if you’ve enjoyed this season so far, the best way to make sure we produce more work like this is to subscribe to The Christian Science Monitor. If you already do, thank you! But if you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that at csmonitor.com/subscribe. We really appreciate your support. Again, that’s csmonitor.com/subscribe.

[Music]

Sam: In our previous episode, we dug into another side of crime and criminality: the harm caused to the victims, and what they want out of the justice system. Do they want to see the people who hurt them punished in this way? Here’s Reuben Miller again. 

Reuben: The person whose car has been broken into might not want that 15-year-old kid to go to an adult prison, might not want that 17-year-old kid to do 10 years because they stole someone’s car. But it doesn’t matter what they want, because at that point, the world of prosecutors and police evidence and attorneys takes over, and disregards what the victim wants.

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Aswad Thomas: In 2009, just after graduating college, becoming the first of my family to ever graduate, and on my way to play professional basketball overseas, I became a victim of gun violence. Those bullets immediately ended my basketball career. 

Sam: This is Aswad Thomas. His own shooting was not his first encounter with gun violence – he’d seen it happen to friends, family, and others in his community in the Detroit area, where he grew up. But he didn’t fully comprehend the lack of support given to victims until he became one himself.

Aswad: I wasn’t connected to any victim services. I remember law enforcement came to visit me several times in my home, and it was always about the case. They never asked me how I was doing. They never told me about the state’s victims compensation program. They never connected me to the victim advocate in their department. So I was left to deal with this traumatic experience, physically and mentally, on my own.

Sam: Later, Aswad was asked to testify against one of the young men who’d been arrested in relation to his shooting.

Aswad: And I remember being in the prosecutor’s office, and the more that they shared about this young man – that he was from my community, he had been arrested before, he had spent time in juvenile facilities, he had dropped out of high school. For some reason, I started to feel bad. And so I asked the prosecutor, I said, ‘How much time is this young man looking at?’ And they told me this young man was looking at 40 years. 

I asked the prosecutor, ‘Can I talk to this young man about the incident? Why did he shoot me?’ I wanted him to know who I was as an individual. And that request was denied completely. 

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Sam: Today, Aswad serves as managing director of the Crime Victims for Safety and Justice program at the Alliance for Safety and Justice. The nonprofit works to make policy changes that reflect what people who’ve encountered the justice system actually want to see. 

Aswad: There’s a narrative that majority of crime victims support tough on crime policies. And that’s not true.

Sam: In 2016, the Alliance for Safety and Justice released the results of a national survey of crime victims. 

The report found that by a 2 to 1 margin, victims wanted the system to focus more on rehabilitation than on punishment. They also largely preferred to see shorter prison sentences, and investments in schools and education instead of funding for prisons and jails. Because, they say, if you don’t invest in these things, it creates a cycle of violence.

Aswad: Crime victims know that to keep our communities safe, we actually need to invest in what actually works. And so we talk about things like prevention, mental health treatment, drug treatment – those are the things that stop the cycles of crime. Many survivors want what happened to them not to happen again. And for those that have caused us harm, we want those individuals to get the rehabilitation that they need, because the majority of those individuals are coming back to our communities.

During my last doctor’s appointment, my doctor, he started to tell me the story of another young man from my community who he had treated four years prior for a gunshot wound. And this young man was shot in his face, lost his sight in his left eye at the age of 14. And like myself, he was released from that hospital back into the community. And the more detail that my doctor shared about this young man, my heart just started to beat fast. Because I was realizing that he was describing one of the young men that had shot me.

We need to shift our thinking about punishment and we need to understand that there needs to be an investment in services to help people deal with the trauma that they have experienced, so that unaddressed trauma won’t result in contact with the criminal justice system. 

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Sam: So far, we’ve heard different ideas about how to transform the justice system so that it’s less punitive, more compassionate, and more equitable, from people who have firsthand experience. Some propose reforming pieces of the system. Others want to see an overhaul of the whole thing. 

For those not at the abolition end of the spectrum, there’s an understanding that, while prisons and jails may be necessary, they need to be drastically reimagined. But what would a place like that look like? To find out, my colleague Henry Gass and I called Michele Deitch at the University of Texas at Austin. We heard from her at the very start of the episode.

Michele Deitch: And the idea was, if you’re going to build a new jail, it needs to be something that is radically different. Could it be reimagined in a way that would be better at meeting the needs of the women in the facility?

Sam: Michele spent years working in prison oversight before she started teaching at UT. In early 2018, she led a team of experts, including formerly incarcerated women, in designing what they call a trauma-informed care facility for incarcerated women in Travis County, Texas – home to the state capital, Austin. The sheriff of Travis County, Sally Hernandez –

Michele: – did not want a new facility that just replicated all the problems in previous jails. So our committee really dug into how else a jail could be, what a facility that is gender responsive, trauma-informed, and rehabilitative might look like.

Henry Gass: Could you elaborate? How would the facility be different from a normal jail? 

Michele: We believed that the facility had to be a place that respects the dignity and inherent worth, the potential, of each person inside. Women experience jail very differently than men. Ninety percent of women in custody have experienced very significant trauma in their lives. So we need to take account of that if we want to change behavior moving forward.

Prisons and jails traditionally are designed in very institutional ways. Everything from concrete floors to steel furniture to loud, clanging doors. And those are features that are not only the opposite of what we think of as a normalized environment, but they also induce trauma. And so trying to soften that environment through more natural materials, more light coming into the facility, avoiding bars and concrete and steel.

You know, adults, they don’t sleep in bunk beds. So why not respect people’s privacy? Give people individual rooms, have them stay in smaller living communities. Give them access to kitchens and to gardens, let them do their own laundry, give them access to the outdoors. 

And these are principles that have really been the underpinning of a lot of European designs, particularly Scandinavian prisons, that have been much more successful at helping people who are incarcerated avoid being harmed by their experience and avoid coming back to prison in the future. 

Henry: You know, there’s an argument that jails and prisons shouldn’t be nice places to live in, that, you know, if the people locked up there feel comfortable, then they’re not learning their lesson, so to speak. What are your thoughts on – on that argument? 

Michele: I mean, I don’t think that people ought to be sent to prison or jail for punishment. Their punishment is that they are having their liberty taken away. While they are incarcerated, that does not need to be punitive. That doesn’t work to change behavior. All it does is further traumatize people and make for an unsafe setting. We can’t tell people on the one hand, ‘We want you to change. We want you to be an upstanding citizen when you get out,’ at the same time that we are treating them in ways that are disrespectful and harmful to them.

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Sam: Michele and her committee did face opposition from local activists who said the money for the new facility should be put toward prevention services instead. The outcry delayed the project for about a year, but it’s now moving forward, albeit slowly. Travis County is in the process of procuring a designer for the facility.

In the meantime, the existing jail in Travis County – like so many others around the country – is struggling with the COVID-19 crisis. We asked Michele to reflect on the pandemic’s effect on justice reform and the way we view incarceration. 

Michele: Before COVID, it was very possible for most citizens to think there was a bright line that we could draw between what happens inside these facilities and what happens in our communities. Well, what COVID has shown us is how we treat people inside, and what happens to them there, is going to affect our communities. We have to stop acting as though this is somehow disconnected from us.

Our notions of prisons and jails can be very deeply reimagined to be healthier, safer, and more rehabilitative. We’ve got international models that show us that if you treat people with dignity and respect, and give them the services and programs they need, and interact with them very, very differently than we currently do, you’re going to get better results.

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Sam: We’ve dedicated this whole season to the U.S. justice system. And it’s true that a lot of its problems – like mass incarceration, racism, and inequality – are a reflection of the issues America faces today. But as Michele suggested, we can cast a wider net in our search for solutions. Crime, after all, happens everywhere. 

Baz Dreisinger: I definitely think having an international perspective can change the road of justice in the US. In some respects, it’s easier to unseat your assumptions about a system by stepping outside and seeing it in a foreign context.

I am Baz Dreisinger, I’m a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where I founded the Prison to College Pipeline program.

Sam: In 2016, Baz published a book called “Incarceration Nations.” She went behind bars in nine other countries to observe how they approach justice. I asked her if she learned anything unexpected during her travels.  

Baz: What surprised me the most was seeing how little difference there was in so many respects, and how this system, the American system, became cut and pasted on the world. But I think there were a few things that are surprising in terms of their difference. And those usually tend to be pockets of small progressive innovations in places where you might not necessarily expect to see them.

Sam: Like Singapore, for example – 

Baz: – a place that is certainly not to be held up as some model of criminal justice progressiveness. But they’ve got an incredible reentry planning program. They have a national job bank for getting people jobs when they come out of prison.

Sam: She also visited New Zealand, where the indigenous Maori use a restorative justice approach to deal with harm in their communities. 

Baz: That person will come to a family group conference. So family members, community elders – which are very significant figures in Maori culture – social workers. And then you have the person who was, you know, involved in the harm. And what happened is discussed. A plan of action is devised. And whether that means becoming part of a community program, or completing some level of education.

Our punitive criminal criminal justice system says, when a harm occurs, ‘OK, who did it and how do we punish them?’ In restorative justice, what you say is, ‘A harm has occurred. Who’s been harmed? And how do we address their needs?’ 

Sam: Baz also went to Rwanda, a country still reckoning with the consequences of a civil war and genocide that occurred in the early ‘90s.

Baz: There was a response that was punitive and people were just being thrown into these old colonial prisons. And that wasn’t sustainable. 

So they created what were known as the gacaca courts. And these were large, open-air meetings where the individuals who committed these harms would confront the person who survived those tremendous acts of harm and sometimes were the survivors of family members who were killed. And systems were devised whereby people could make reparations. 

Sam: Sometimes those reparations came in the form of work, other times in money or material goods. 

Baz: There were lots of avenues created. And there was also a national reckoning with the enormity of what happened that still continues to this day, every April, to commemorate the genocide.

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Sam: None of these approaches are perfect. The Rwandan effort, for example, has faced criticism about flawed sentencing processes and political manipulation, even as it’s received international praise. And Baz says that the success of even the Scandinavian approaches, which are most often considered global models, need to be looked at within the context of those countries. But her point is that what we’re doing in the U.S. today isn’t the only way to address crime. There are other avenues for dealing with harm, other means of pursuing justice. And Baz, like all our guests today, is challenging us to imagine those other paths and ask ourselves: How can we do this better?

Baz: We really need to think outside the box. We need to shake up our ideas about prison, and we need to think about what really builds safe communities. 

[Music]

Sam: We want to close on a note about change. If there’s anything we’re taking home from our guests all season, it’s that the justice system we have today is damaged and damaging, but it doesn’t have to be that way forever. Change can happen, they told us, because it’s already happening.

Baz: When I first started working in prisons more than 15 years ago, it was a very unpopular thing. I remember people saying, ‘Why are you educating criminals?’ And, ‘Why are you going to prisons?’ Things are very, very different now. And talking about prisons and being, you know, an activist in that space has become much more popular and much more mainstream. 

Sam: Ultimately, whatever approaches we think are worth trying, the people who are most affected say their communities need to be at the center. We leave you with Kevin Garrett, the Texas advocate, and Amber-Rose Howard, the activist in California. 

Kevin: We have to change the culture. I think it is incumbent upon all of us to show them wrong, to prove that we can be changed despite the circumstances, despite not having the resources available. We can contribute to our communities. And they start becoming the best example of what change looks like.

Amber-Rose: I did get a felony very early on in life, when I was 18 years old. And so it’s like, if you ask us what is public safety. If you ask me, what would have kept me away from being convicted of something serious and violent, I can tell you exactly what I needed. 

So for me, just seeing people who are directly impacted lifting their own voices and their own expertise in what would work, I find hope in building what we really want to see. Because I think that those who are closest to the harm and the problem are actually the ones holding the solutions. 

Sam: Thanks for listening! If you liked this season of “Perception Gaps,” share it with your friends, co-workers, and family! And if you’d like us to make more episodes, subscribe to the Monitor at csmonitor.com/subscribe. Because of your financial support, we were able to produce Season 2, so we’d love your help in producing a Season 3. Again, you can subscribe and support our work at csmonitor.com/subscribe. 

This episode was hosted by me, Samantha Laine Perfas. It was produced, reported, and written by me, Henry Gass, and Jessica Mendoza, with additional edits by Clay Collins and Dave Scott. Sound design by Morgan Anderson and Noel Flatt. Since this is our last episode of the season, we want to give a quick shoutout to our fact-checkers, Noelle Swan and Judy Douglass, our sensitivity reader Arielle Gray, as well as our other studio engineers Tim Malone, Tory Silver, and Jeff Turton. 

This podcast was produced by The Christian Science Monitor, copyright 2020.

 [End]

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www.csmonitor.com

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