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A Proposal To Turn Inmates Away From A Life Of Crime

-by Garry Sims

While crime is America's fastest "growth industry," our penal system is our least efficient industry. America's prison system has a failure rate of more than 75 percent, that is, more than 75 percent of the people released today will return to prison within three to four years. More than 50 percent will return for crimes committed within the first few months of freedom. It does not seem to matter how long a sentence a person serves, the return rate is the same. 

Any business with a product return rate that high would face stockholders demanding a change. As the "stockholders" in this "business," why have we not demanded a change? 

I believe the prison system suffers from a basic design flaw, in that it almost always removes an inmate from the local community where he is most likely to be returned upon release. This results in increased family breakdown as family members are unable to regularly travel great distances to visit. This also prevents local organizations, such as the local church, from working with the inmate to prepare him to return to society. 

Projects in several states where inmates were matched up with a free "world mentor" who became his friend in prison and continued to help him upon release have shown incredible reductions in the return rates, reversing them in some cases. 

Unless a positive support system exists, both studies and experience have demonstrated that many men released from prison with nothing but good intentions, including men who have come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior while in prison, return at the same rate as the general population. There are several reasons for this, all of which could be dealt with if we were to adopt a system of community prisons. 

While in prison, an inmate loses the ability to make decision, as all decisions of any importance are made for him. I have known of men getting out after long terms who were unable to even choose what to eat from a restaurant menu. When released into a community where no one trusts them to start with, and no one is there to help with making decisions and adjustments, they soon find themselves in trouble again. 

If we were to replace the current prison system with community prisons, that is, local prisons in easy reach of every community, many of the problems that lead to recidivism could be dealt with. 

With local prisons, family could visit on a regular basis, keeping that support system intact. The local church would be able to invest its time and effort in the local prison, knowing that these inmates are from their community and upon release would be living in that same community. Local civic groups that already volunteer in prisons would be working with inmates who would be living in their own neighborhoods when released. 

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