Changes in people’s attitudes are essential to make positive changes in prisons, a prison watchdog leader says.
“Prison is good for incarceration but not good at deterring crime or rehabilitation,” said John Maki, an executive with John Howard Associates of Illinois. He spoke on Martin Luther King Day at Illinois Wesleyan University. The event was reported by Edith Brady-Lunny of pantagraph.com.
The assumption that punishment must be prison ignores the reality that incarceration is just one method of dealing with offenders, a means that often produces expensive and ineffective results, Maki said.
His group monitors the Illinois prisons and issues reports and recommendations.
Also in attendance was Bob Sutherland, from the Central Illinois Chapter at the American Civil Liberties Union, who spoke on progressive changes to the Illinois criminal justice system. He recounted the 15 years of work by the ACLU, the League of Women Voters and other criminal justice advocates to find a solution to overcrowding.
“Prison is good for incarceration but not
good at deterring crime or rehabilitation,”
A study conducted by McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery in 2009 showed that county officials have kept the 241-bed jail population stable for more than a year, allowing them to avoid outsourcing their inmates to neighboring jails.
Maki also praised Emery for “doing some phenomenal things” for the mentally ill held in his county’s jail. Defendants with mental health and substance abuse problems are offered options other than jail sentences through two countywide programs.
Those programs, along with educational opportunities, can reduce recidivism, according to Sutherland, who is also a member of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
“If we shun (offenders) or turn our backs on them, we are simply inviting a downward spiral that will result in recidivism,” Sutherland said.
Maki said that reluctance to reform a national system that currently incarcerates about 2.3 million people may stem from misunderstood notions of prisoners. Because of that, JHA’s study of Illinois’ prison conditions is based on the philosophy that “no one is reducible to the worst thing they’ve done,” said Maki.