The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked the American Dream
By Carissa Barstis
Incarceration policies in Connecticut need a major overhaul, a leading author told a New Haven audience in February.
Rev. Marilyn B. Kendrix, co-author of The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked the American Dream, said during the talk that the roughly $1 billion a year Connecticut spends on the Department of Corrections can be better allocated to programs to help reduce the prison population. Rev. Kendrix explained the “penalties and prohibitions” that exist well beyond a prison sentence:
“If there are no checkboxes asking about a felony on job applications, a criminal background check will get them fired within 3 weeks,” said Rev. Kendrix. Difficulty in procuring a job, food stamps, or federal student loans ensures that “the most rational thing to do is re-offend.” Additionally, as many as 75% of recidivism cases result from technical parole or probation violations that range anywhere from missing curfew to non-violent drug offenses.
The talk, which took place at Ives Main Library in New Haven on February 7, 2015, was a call for support of legislation that aims to reduce the prison population, such as Gov. Dannel Malloy’s “Second Chance Society.”*
Rev. Kendrix applauded Gov. Malloy’s legislative action, calling it a “good first step in dismantling the state of the incarceration system.” The desired outcomes The Justice Imperative would like to see take place include reducing the amount of prisoners in Connecticut by 50% and cutting recidivism rates by 30% within 5 years. Rev. Kendrix said these can be achieved by focusing on re-integration procedures and providing treatment as opposed to incarceration for those who commit non-violent crimes, and she stressed that the only way these changes can take place is through political action. “People must contact their legislators to let them know we support bills that intend to change our justice system for the better,” said Rev. Kendrix.
The audience, quiet through the presentation, became lively when Kendrix opened the floor to questions. The majority of those who chose to address Kendrix had questions about money. “Politics works through a love of money, not people,” one audience member remarked. Kendrix acknowledged that monetary motivation is often a part of it, but that “it is not a bad thing if it will make a change for the system.” Another in attendance suggested that the “system bent on the breakdown of poor and black families” is far too ingrained to fix now. Rev. Kendrix only responded that it will be a difficult thing to battle and repeated that change can happen if we “keep up our diligence.”
A particularly passionate audience member lauded what The Justice Imperative is trying to do but noted, “There aren’t enough organizations that are cohesive enough to have an impact.” He pointed out that a change in incarceration practices has to happen on a deeper level than calling legislators; there needs to be a perceptible shift in how Americans view people who are or have been incarcerated. He reiterated what another audience member said: “The entwining of politics and money is the biggest hurdle against a change in the justice system.”
The audience’s reaction showed a desire for change but a skepticism that this change can be done at such a large scope and in such a short period of time as The Justice Imperative is suggesting, but, as Rev. Kendrix said, spreading the knowledge is a “good step in the right direction.”