Many people ask me what makes people keep going back to prison and why I believe prison can be a transformational experience. First of all, people go back for many different reasons including lack of acceptance, poor family and community ties, shame and substance abuse relapse. Yet, it is clear that the number of people who go back on violations or new charges is reduced by a solid re entry program. Additionally, most of mainstream society is not aware that the vast majority of incarcerated people have a substance abuse problem and/or a co existing mental health issue. In fact, our prisons and jails have become the leading mental health facilities in the country!
What to do? First, we must understand that everyone who goes through the system does not have the same experience or the same after care alternatives. It seems, just like most things in life, it is all in who or what you know. For example, I lecture around the country on various topics but focus on re entry. Today I was sent a link to a website by Officer Victor Cass of the Pasadena Police Department. Officer Cass and I have a program called the Community Legal Wellness seminars and are also members of the City of Pasadena’s Mental Health Advisory Committee. Our main goal is to raise awareness and present resources to the community along with bridging the gap between ex offenders and law enforcement. The link was to a website about government programs and re entry, a project of the Justice Center. I had NEVER even heard of this project nor the resources available. Just like all of government, one hand does not necessarily know what the other is doing. Probation and Parole officers do their best and even they are unaware of resources and programs in most cases. There simply needs to be better organization and understanding.
The point is that if we want to see changes in our criminal justice system that allow for a better outcome and less crime, we need to work together and get real. Over 92% of incarcerated people are coming out. It is not that complicated. It does not have to be who you know, but is what you know. So, pass it on and pay it forward and practice some restorative justice!