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Opinion | Reverse recidivism rate

John W. Giles

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Recidivism rate is the tendency of a criminal to commit a crime and return to prison. This is one of those areas where fuzzy math drives you crazy getting to the facts. According to the National Institute of Justice, 68 percent of 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of their release from prison, and 77 percent were arrested within five years.

According to a 2018 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1960, the U.S. prison population was about 46,000. Today, it is nearly 2.2 million. The U.S. population since then grew 44 percent, but prison population grew over 100 percent. We have to ask ourselves, what in the world is going on and what has changed? Let’s dig in.

Folks, first we have to admit what we are doing is not working. Rising prison populations and increasing crime are crowding the agendas and pressing budgets for legislators. The public conversation now is about sentencing reforms, which means lessening sentences and punishments, building mega prisons, restoring felons’ voting rights and now, Sen. Bernie Sanders wants all inmates to vote in prison. This, friend, is insane. Prison is now called Corrections, which has become three hots and a cot, plenty of porn, television, flip flops, breeding grounds for gangs, drugs, cell phones, and next, there will be mandated cookies and milk along with a bedtime story. To my congressional and state legislative friends, we are moving the reform needle in the wrong direction – we are going softer, and we should be going harder.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center have worked overtime to incrementally give prisoners almost the same rights as free people. At one time, a prisoner was property of the state and had no rights. Within 60 plus years of jurist activism within the liberal federal courts, we have become very soft while crime and prison populations soar.

We moved to Alabama in 1959, I was 5 years old, and Kilby Penitentiary was a stone throw from my family home in Dalraida right across 3-mile branch. I remember riding in the car through the cotton fields behind the prison and seeing mounted guards with shotguns and striped uniformed convicts picking cotton. The faces of these convicts looked contorted and angry, frankly frightening as a child. As a young boy, I feared even the thought of prison. There is something to be said about a deterrent environment.

Between 1812 and 1965, 708 people were executed in Alabama. Until 1927, hanging was the primary method of execution, although one person was shot. Firing squads, public hangings were the order of the day and then came along Yellow Mama, the electric chair.

Some of the court-mandated reforms brought about the gas chamber and now lethal injection. Yellow Mama was unplugged. For capital punishment, the liberal courts have moved us from hangings to say your prayers and go to sleep sugar, night night, while I put you to sleep with this little shot. Sweet dreams!

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Simply put, our current system of so-called reform is not working; we need to go back to some serious deterrents invoking fear of going to the penitentiary. The U.S. is feared worldwide because we maintain world peace through military strength. No one really wants war, but our strength and the enormous military ability serves as deterrent. Likewise, we need to turn back the clock and return to the old days of true prison reform.

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As a starter, use the terms penitentiaries and convicts, not corrections and inmates. Abolish parole boards and go back to truth in sentencing. If you get 20 years, you serve 20 years. We need to return to hard labor and work these convicts with genuine manual labor. No TV except when rewarded and then limited to shows like the Andy Griffith Show. No porn, no cell phones, no drugs and limited cigarette breaks. In the ’50s, convicts lost their rights and were properties of the state. We need to return to this notion. If you are caught in a gang, having any sex or caught with contraband, years are added to your time. If you are convicted of a felony, your voting rights are permanently revoked. Pedophiles are now mapped, and all released convicts need to be mapped. If you commit any level of a murder, rape, incest or pedophilia proven by DNA, you are immediately executed within days, not years. The convict can choose between hanging, firing squad or Yellow Mama. Our recidivism rate will go from 77 percent back down to 50 percent or below like it was in the 1960s. Keep in mind, during the days of Yellow Mama, one execution served as deterrent and saved 17 lives.

To my friends in the Alabama Legislature and Congress, let’s erase the 60 years of jurist activism that have incrementally turned our prisons into summer camps. Let’s roll back the laws to some serious stiff incarnation environments as suggested in this article. Our federal courts are now being filled with strict constructionists, and we might return some sanity into our penal systems. We now have an opportunity to right so many wrongs invoked from the liberal 60 year reign in the courts.

Get serious about reversing the escalating recidivism rate in our country.

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