Prison reform has long been a hot-button issue for Prison Fellowship®, one that has often taken our staff to Capitol Hill. Now the same issue has once again made its way to the Senate. On Thursday, June 11, 2009, Senators Jim Webb, D-Va., Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., pulled up their chairs to hear what experts—including Prison Fellowship’s Pat Nolan—think America should do to reduce incarceration, cut spending on corrections, and create safer communities.
The hearing boosted support for the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009, a bill Webb introduced to the Senate on March 26, which addresses a laundry list of grievances against the current state of America’s criminal justice system, including the over-incarceration of drug offenders and mentally ill Americans. Over the next 18 months, the subcommittee will investigate ways to reduce the incarceration rate, improve response to gang violence, revamp drug policies, improve treatment of mental illness, and emphasize prisoner reentry.
Speaking from his perspective as Los Angeles’ chief of police, William Bratton told the audience, “We cannot arrest our way out of our crime and drug problem.”
“Prisons are meant for people we’re afraid of,” Pat Nolan followed, “but we fill them with people we’re just mad at.” He then suggested four alternatives: send non-dangerous mentally ill offenders to treatment facilities; send parole violators to jail for 24 hours, not prison for a year; prioritize parole supervision for serious, not minor, offenders; and eliminate the policy that prevents mentors from staying in contact with prisoners once they are released.