Changing Public Image of Prisoners

by Wayne T. Dowdy

Every major news network feeds the public negative reports about those who commit crimes. Understandably, the negative press induces abhorrence, antipathy and fear towards those who commit crimes and go to prison.

Some of those who receive the negative press are ex-offenders who returned to old behaviors upon release (recidivist), and whose actions do not generate sympathy or concern for those who have fallen short of the glory of society.

PRESS EFFECT: To counteract the negative effect of the press, create a source for providing positive information about prisoners and ex-offenders.

As reported in “Reentry Programs Will Reduce Recidivism,” over 70-million Americans have criminal records. That translates into a vital statistic: millions of prisoners and ex-offenders do not commit, and have not committed violent, aggressive crimes.

All incarcerated individuals are not violent criminals. Read the February 24, 2016, blog post, “Violent Crime Misconception” (straightfromthepen.wordpress.com and waynedowdy.weebly.com), for a factual view on “violent crime” labels and terminology misused by politicians.

Factually, the percentage of released prisoners who commit violent, horrendous crimes, is far less than 1% of the 70-million Americans with criminal records, and yet, typically, society stereotypes millions of inmates and ex-offenders based upon the actions of a few (1% for writing purposes).

UNRECOGNIZED SUCCESS STORIES: Millions of ex-offenders get out and become model, productive citizens. Thousands of men and women inside prisons do wonderful things to help change lives and to make the world a better place; e.g., mentoring other prisoners, creating or conducting programs proven to have positive effects on the lives of participants.

Society does not hear about those inside who do good things. The ones who deserve press coverage do not receive it and do not get recognized for what they do; not even the exceptional things get recognized: We have the power to change that.

99% VERSUS 1%: News coverage goes to the 1% whose actions do not represent the majority of the incarcerated or ex-offenders, any more than actions of the Wealthy One-Percenters in America represent average American citizens.

CREATE A PLATFORM FOR CHANGE: These are suggestions for steps to take to promote change in society’s negative perception of prisoners and ex-felons:

1) create a non-profit organization with (a) staff to create and monitor websites to push program agenda; and (b), hire staff or find volunteers committed to change who will provide help at researching prisoners and ex-offenders who do or have done things beneficial for society;

2) run ads in newspapers, magazines, and online, to seek names of candidates (ex-offenders & prisoners) for 1(b), who are willing to tell or to have their stories posted or used in media coverage (signed privacy release needed);

3) post stories on YouTube, Facebook, and other social media networks–invite sharing;

4) use statistics to illustrate the minute percentage of ex-offenders who commit violent, aggressive crimes that cause physical pain and injury, like rapes (especially brutal rapes), malicious murders, robberies containing violent, physical force used to injure victims;

5) invite testimonials for release on media outlets, from those released from prison who have successfully reintegrated into society (set up groups based upon length of time since release from prison);

6) invite testimonials on effects of prison life on prisoners and those affected by lives of prisoners;

7) in the media coverage, address the dehumanization of people through labeling (racial monikers, etc.);

8) offer opportunities for change to the incarcerated and to released offenders through methods outlined in “Reentry Programs Will Reduce Recidivism” (“Providing incarcerated individuals with job and life skills, education programming, and mental health and addiction treatment …”)(“For reentry initiatives to achieve optimal success, it will take funding for the proven programs to reduce recidivism rates in America (mental health care, substance abuse counseling/treatment, educational and employment opportunities, temporary housing assistance, ….”);

9) promote change by informing society with accumulated data;

10) open dialogue between ex-offenders and victims of crime (similar to Victim Impact principles), using anonymous identities to protect each party. Let their voices be heard to facilitate healing and recovery.

CHANGE COMES FROM WITHIN: Each of us must make the decision to change. Statistically, most prisoners probably have a lack of self-esteem; especially, those with substance abuse and mental health issues (read “No Sympathy”* for the overwhelming statistics on the correlation of mental illness, substance issues, and American prisoners).

Providing the Criminal Justice System does evolve into offering treatment for co-occurring disorders, to help those with dual disorders, more prisoners will be able to change and become productive members of society and live normal lives.

For those with or without such issues, who enroll in and complete reentry and other programs, and then become successful upon release, their success becomes testimonials to those on the inside, who may elect to follow in their paths. To be an effective mechanism of change, other prisoners must become aware of their success.

PUBLICATION TO REPORT SUCCESS OF PARTICIPANTS: To transmit the word of success, create a publication approved by prison administrators for circulation inside their prisons. Elect specific volunteers or workers in the organization created to change society’s perception of prisoners, to investigate all legal issues by contacting attorneys (or researching the issue online, if qualified).

PUSH FOR CHANGE: Form a committee to contact legislatures and other politicians about providing funding to prisons for the creation of programs inside the prisons such as those mentioned above. President Obama and the United States Department of Justice has charged the Bureau of Prisons with implementing the five proven programs to reduce recidivism (see #8 in itemized lists).

Push legislatures to continue funding and to pass laws that provide prisoners with incentives for participating in Reentry and other proven programs to reduce recidivism rates in America.

For instance, mandate and specify that B.O.P. or state agencies increase halfway house time to one-year (remove discretion by prison authorities); and offer additional days off prison sentence for successful completion of programs.

Solicit companies to agree to give priority to employment applications from program graduates.

Share the results with others through the publication and online through social media outlets.

The process will take years before measurable results are available, but change will come. When society sees men and women coming out of prison and becoming productive members of society, then their perception of prisoners will change.

_______________________________________
* Read “No Sympathy” at https://straightfromthepen.wordpress.com, or at waynedowdy.weebly.com. The essay is included in ESSAYS & MORE STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN ($8.95 USD) in paperback.

Check out UNKNOWN INNOCENCE at https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/WayneMrDowdy. Available as Reader Sets Price ($4.95 default price at all other eBook retailers).

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