All across Medium today we are looking at the impacts of mass incarceration in America. As we discuss this important issue, it’s important to remember that those who are involved in our criminal justice system are not just numbers on a list. They are people with families, children, and very real hopes, dreams, and fears. At Root & Rebound, we work to make sure that those returning to society from prison have the resources necessary to overcome incredible odds in a society, where there is a ton stacked against them to go on and live productive, successful lives. Through our work, we encounter powerful stories on a daily basis, and this past month we released a series of videos featuring our clients detailing their experiences with reentry.
These videos put a human face to the challenges of prison reentry in California — a face that can no longer be ignored. Far too often discussions of criminal justice policy are relegated to costs and population numbers. It is critical to put a human face on the impact our broken systems and policies have on the individual, families, neighborhoods, and communities.
The videos, directed and produced by Margaret Katcher, are first-person narratives of what “reentry” looks like. They make clear that discussions of a person’s criminal justice-involvement start with the other broken systems in our state and county — the education, health, foster care, policing, courts, and prison systems. The story tellers offer heartfelt and candid testimony of drug addiction, grief, violence, and trauma, and the impact of incarceration on their families and communities. Despite these challenges, the stories are not without optimism; and a main theme is the importance of community support, legal advice, and employment services — and the fact that they did, in fact, make it out to the other side to become engaged, productive, and giving members of their communities.
These videos come at a time when public attitude toward criminal justice is changing. Many of California’s most damaging criminal justice policies — including its harsh three-strikes law — were passed at a time when crime was seen as the most pressing issue. However, recent polls show that public perception of crime and the criminal justice system are changing.
The atmosphere around prison reentry has changed dramatically in the last five years. More and more people are seeing the value of support services. If these trends continue, we may permanently shift away from a system solely focused on punishment to one that promotes rehabilitation and prevention — and one that recognizes that many of the people in reentry who we speak about getting ‘a second chance’ never really had a first chance at all.
You can watch all the videos on our website. We’ll be sharing some of these stories of reentry tomorrow as the Medium criminal justice Town Hall continues, so check back then.