John Hamilton

It’s Time to Start Thinking Outside the Box When It Comes to Penal and Criminal Justice Reform Efforts by John Hamilton

A long time ago I once heard someone describe insanity as doing the same thing, over and over again, expecting different results. This undoubtedly describes the dilemma surrounding penal and criminal justice reform efforts in America. It’s time to rethink our reform strategies and embrace a more innovative approach.

Political fear mongering, lobbyists agendas, looming budget constraints, overcrowding issues, significant population rise in geriatric offenders, and escalating medical costs demand a more ingenious approach that’ll stimulate more than just dialogue. Reform efforts have been discussed at nauseum. It’s time to start putting those ideas into action.

The more pertinent question is who, or what organization, is going to be bold enough to grab this bull of an issue by the horns and steer the initiative? Congress, state legislators, special interest groups, and sadly, the public have all disregarded the dangers associated with the industrialization of mass incarceration in America. Their disdain goes far beyond the rumination of indentured servitude for the convicted.

When the powerful elite monetize other humans as commodity, there’s a regression of our lineage that can’t be overstated. For an advanced society to continue in such rudimentary practices, especially in light of how far we’ve progressed over the last century, reinforces how much further our race has to go to rid our archaic and barbarian ways.

While I acknowledge we are a Nation of laws, it’s essential we don’t lose our identity as civilization recalibrates its moral compass. Society seems willing to accept the erosion of some civil liberties for a safer community. Believers seem willing to sacrifice their tenets in order to scourge sinners. What are you willing to forgo in order to ensure equality in reform efforts?

There’s a tendency to fear that which you don’t understand. The fear of the unknown pilfers the hearts and minds of an otherwise civilized society. It’s imperative that humanity prevails over these tumultuous times.

What’s alarming in this country is the police state America has become. What’s worse is the distinction that has been delineated between us (citizens) and them (justice apparatus). All one has to do is view the media and discern for themselves what I’ve said to be true.

For brevity sake, the best example is that of a teacher who engages in a consensual relationship with a minor (teen) and gets caught vs. a corrections officer who forces a juvenile offender to engage in sexual illicit activity for fear of reprisal. Both are illegal, both are reprehensible, but both are not treated similar in the court of law. The true events occurred above but the citizen was convicted for multiple offenses and sentenced to twenty years, meanwhile, the corrections officer was convicted for a single offense, lost his job and received a suspended sentence and probation. Similar examples are everywhere and eviscerates the fundamental belief that equal protection under the law still exists. This only exacerbates the divide between us and them. Furthermore, it questions the questionable practice of selective prosecution.

The media are just as culpable in this one-sided onslaught. The tentacles of the criminal justice system utilize the media when it serves their best interest. Similarly, when the story hurts their depiction of an alleged incident, suddenly the justice apparatus becomes mute and asks for the media’s discretionary prudence in their reporting.

The media’s insatiable appetite for sensational journalism only stokes the flames of hypocrisy. Perhaps worse than at any time in our history, double standards are commonplace. There was a time when the word of the government or those representing the government’s interests were implicitly trusted. Recent historical events have revealed just how secretive our government can be. They justify their clandestine activities being a necessary evil in order to maintain stability, here and abroad. I beg to differ and believe their flagrant disregard for our civil liberties clearly demonstrates their ulterior motives.

In spite of all the publicity concerning governmental intrusion and overreach, most citizens still believe the government is for the people. I pray the majority of those who blindly believe that – are never thrusted into the penal or criminal justice systems. I speak candidly because I was one of those trusting souls.

Here’s the crux of the issue involving reform efforts. The prison industry in America has become a conglomerate, a burgeoning cash cow for those who wield the political power to bring about the change so desperately sought. Who in their right mind would want to decimate their personal coffers for puritanical reasons? This is precisely why reform efforts have never advanced.

These same conflicted individuals, for fear of elucidation, concocted the over exaggerated concerns of recidivism, inflicting irrational fears, misrepresentations, and false stereotypes of those incarcerated. The natural progression led to tougher legislation, imposing harsher penalties, which now extends far beyond one’s release date. All you have to do is look at civil commitment and indefinite probation now becoming commonplace in this country.

If you recall my very first blog, I don’t have all the answers. But I know greed is one of the worst sins. Collectively, from a united front, it’s time to breakup the monopoly, eliminate politics control over mass incarceration, and let the seasoned professionals of criminologists, sociologists, and psychologists direct the necessary and long overdue overhaul of the penal and criminal justice systems.

John E. Hamilton, #1442949
Virginia Dept. of Corrections
Nottoway Correctional Center
2892 Schutt Rd / P.O. Box 488
Burkeville VA 23922

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