It is budget time again. Budgets – budgets – budgets! In school districts, the states and at the national level, there is a scramble to try and produce realistic budgets with almost all of these economic and political entities finding themselves sorely strapped and being forced to cut back on services of every kind and at every level. Most of the time these discussions are carried on in terms of dollars. We have enough dollars for this. We don’t have enough dollars for that. This has to be cut back! This has to be eliminated!
One line item that seldom experiences dramatic cuts is the criminal justice system. The philosophy, “let’s get tougher on crime,” has been in place for more than a quarter of a century and today more than one percent of our population is involved with that system. That’s approximately two million people.
Alex Mikulich, Ph.D., with the Southern Jesuits of Loyola University, is endeavoring to inform all of us about the terrible, devastating human cost under our system of incarceration since incarceration often exacerbates the already dismal economic prospects of family members. Today, 54% of inmates are parents with minor children, ages one to 17, including 120,000 mothers, 1.1 million fathers. Two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.
Research shows that children of incarcerated parents are at a high risk of being incarcerated themselves. Children with fathers who have been incarcerated are significantly more likely than other children to be expelled, to experience aggression, hyperactivity, depression, withdrawal and to be suspended from school, thus continuing the terrible cycle of crime, incarceration and broken families. The maladies in the prison system are really one of the worst evils in our society, but as a people, we are hesitant to address it realistically.
In God’s name, can’t we do better? How long will we be blind to the destructiveness of the present system?