Thinking of the Least of Us : Thoughts on Prison Reform and Second Chances

Submitted by Sudhir Kade on Tue, 01/10/2006 - 23:35.

 I was truly inspired to write this entry by a photograph provided by one concerned citizen, Jeff Buster, which you can find here.  We need to reach out those functioning in such grey markets, driven by desperate circumstances to cross ethical lines to generate revenue.  We cannot fault the individual for his entrepreneurial moxie but we certainly need to prevent the vandalism, trespassing or other criminal activity often incorporated into these grey-market / black-market processes.   In short, the entrepreneurial energy needs to be channeled into completely legal venture opportunities.

 This brings to mind business models employed by some very successful businesses that have granted newfound opportunity to many that would never be considered through conventional means.  Greyston Bakery has been able to demonstrate a unique win-win by providing a delicious set of gourmet baked items and employing former convicts and drug addicts to produce, market and sell them.  Their socially conscious approach has yielded great dividends (literally) and demonstrated year-after-year growth.

   Another arena where lifting up the underprivileged has made great business sense is in microfinance - traditionally and globally, the payback on these loans has been significantly higher than national averages.  Many times a perceived default risk is anything but - especially when considering those who have long been stigmatized by low credit scores that oft-unfairly stereotype many upstanding individuals.

Finally, a few words about prison reform - few people would disagree that the majority of jails and prisons strive to rehabilitate inmates but rarely succeed.   The rate of repeat offenses is inordinately high.  Many of these institutions institutionalize criminals and create a paradox for many where life within is preferred to one as part of society.  Still others are effectively trained in prison to hone their criminal skills and learn new ones- tempting future criminal behavior through empowerment and a cultivated belief that one 'won't get caught  this time around'.

I am just scraping the surface with this last topic: it really deserves its own commentary.  I will finally touch on 'second chance' programs which have been historically driven by faith communities.  These programs, in which clergy train and personally vouch for former felons and convicts, have also shown significant success in the re-employment of those stigmatized as unemployable.  People must see the value in returning productive citizens to society rather than repeat felons.  Systems like these that have demonstrated success need to be heralded and supported with greater public funding.  An array of accountability mechanisms could be implemented to ease the ultraconservative or otherwise judgemental.

Virtual platforms and technology could play a major role in raising awareness, educating the uneducated, and helping to facilitate reform by linking opportunities like those with Greyston and other socially conscious organizations with those desperately wanting a second chance at a legitimate living.  It behooves us all to support such mechanisms because they help create a safer environment for all of us, and ultimately a better quality of life for all of us. 

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