Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Plight of Ex-Offenders

A significant result of the War on Drugs, and the reality of that community crushing propaganda filled effort, has been the declaration of war on Americans that use drugs. The statistics are staggering with America's incarcerated population growing over 300% since the "declaration", and of course most of this growth has been disproportionaly black and brown citizens. Not because they use far more drugs, but primarily because they are easier targets, and the system is harsher in their sentencing.

So now we have huge populations of ex-offenders returning to those communities and our choice as a society is whether they return to resources that are available to help them become productive citizens, or do we abandon them to become community predators.

Yesterday my Prison Ministry at Trinity United Church of Christ held our first Life Expo for "Returning Citizens". This event was a one-stop-shop opportunity for men and women to connect with resources that might ease their reintegration efforts, from veteran's affairs and expungement support from the Wayne County Bar, to housing, education and entrepreneurial training opportunities.

Between the State of Illinois and the Federal Government there are grants made available to agencies working on this issue, but there are still tremendous roadblocks in the way. In Illinois for instance there are restrictions on felons being eligible for licences for a variety of occupations . . . some make sense, others may make you wonder what the hell were our policy makers thinking. For example, felons can not hold the following jobs:
  1. Architect
  2. Athletic Trainer
  3. Auctioneer
  4. Barber (as the kids say WTF)
  5. Boxer
  6. CPA (well, ok I might buy that)
  7. Cosmetologist
  8. Nail Technician (really . . . nail technician???)
  9. Embalmer
  10. Funeral Director
  11. Farm Labor Contractor
And almost 30 more!

In the end, if we are serious about reentry and providing a second chance for folks that have served their time, we need to be serious about bring some common sense to the issue of licensing restrictions on felons.

What do you think?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Drug Test Welfare Recpients?

The question was posed to me on one of the Facebook polls this morning: "Should you have to take a drug test for welfare?"

An initial emotional response can easily be "yes". If the government is going to assist individuals surely we have the right to know that they are drug free, that our tax dollars are not being used to support bad behavior. This type of policy would work to reduce the welfare rolls and our subsequent wasted tax dollars. Ideally it would force welfare moms to clean up their act.

Or, just maybe, this type of policy would increase the misery of a population that is obviously struggling to meet the day to day sustenance requirements of life. Perhaps this would result in the perpetuation through the generations of this poverty and helplessness as the children in these households also suffer the consequences of their parents' bad decisions.

Of course, if drug testing was used as an intervention tool, one that led to treatment for the drug problem, that would be entirely different, and from my view positive. As a society we need to move away from the punitive nature of drug policy, toward one based on the recognition that it is a medical issue. There is a plethora of medical research that lends support to this argument and we need to work to have the scientific evidence hold sway over the propaganda from the absolutely failed policies of the "war on drugs".

In the end a recognition of the drug problem as a medical issue will save thousands, perhaps millions, of Americans from a life of misery on the fringes of society, from leaving families and children in their destructive wakes, and reduce our prison populations and the increasing percentage of tax dollars going to run those prisons. This seems like a left/right win-win if I ever saw one.

What do you think?

Friday, September 11, 2009

What's compassion got to do with it?

If I were not such an optimist, I would just give up discussing Health Care Reform (no, really, I was a member of Optimist International for many years when I lived in Detroit).

One of my Facebook friends mentioned that he saw a lack of compassion among his "right-leaning" friends, specifically involving the health care reform debate, speculating that only 10% of this set of friends had "compassion". What was interesting was that they quickly rose up . . . and proved his point. The discussion quickly ventured off into the various propaganda espoused by opponents, "what has the government done for me?", or "has the government every created a program that worked?", and forgetting the question of compassion as it relates to this issue.

One definition I found for compassion: Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. For me, that does it. It's like empathy with an action orientation. Romans 6:1-2, the Message Bible translation, reads as follows:
Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, "How can I help?"
If compassion is a characteristic you feel is part of your personality . . . an aspect of who you are, how could you not be willing to support health care for everyone?

I'm not trying to preach, but I am confused by the vehemence of the opposition.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Positive Anti-Crime Thrust, Inc - New Web Site

I've just finished launching a new web site for the Positive Anti-Crime Thrust (PACT) a project that is long over due (I'm not going to say how long, but my good friend and mentor in criminal justice issues HS knows). This is just the incentive I need to stay current with my blog (at least weekly is my goal).
I know that for now I am just talking to myself, but hopefully with the launch of the new PACT site a few folks will be tempted to see what I've got to say here.
Two additional things for today:
  • My Prison Ministry at Trinity UCC held our 15th annual clothing giveaway on Saturday September 5th. It was a lot of work but we must have received 150 bags of useful clothes, and many more that were on hangers. It was a wonderful example of community effort and the donors provided an abundance that was a blessing to those in need. Pictured below is the morning organizing (pre shoppers).
  • On September 15th the Trinity UCC Prison Ministry will be hosting an Expo for Returning Citizens. This event will provide a "one stop shop" of sorts where resources from housing and employment, to health and counseling will be available for those who need to make contact with sevices vital to keeping them on a path to good citizenship. It is our first time trying something like this, so if you pray, please includes this program in your prayers.
Until next time . . .