We’re happy to announce a partnership with Shady Grove Presbyterian Church to produce a unique evening of conversation and exploration of an issue very near to us – criminals.
Sounds harsh, doesn’t it. We don’t often use this language for obvious reasons. The term evokes negative and sharp emotions. And maybe it should. But who are the criminals in our community. Do you know any? What have they done? What are their stories?
SALT, in its second season, is an outreach of Shady Grove that follows this simple recipe:
1 lb. great music
4 cups insightful questions
2 pinches of community
Join us on October 18, as we add our voices . . . and musical instruments to the mix. Capital Defense Team member, Rob Gowen, will play guitar and Assistant Public Defender Josh Spickler will contribute to the narrative portion of the evening. Plus, a special guest will share a unique story about his last 44 years as an inmate in the Tennessee prison system.
You won’t want to miss this compelling evening. It’s free and open to the public.
Prepare to be challenged.
When: Thursday, October 18 at 7PM
Where: Shady Grove Presbyterian Church, 5530 Shady Grove Road, Memphis, Tenn.
JustCity brings you stories of justice from Memphis and beyond.
Shelby County Public Defender’s Office, Memphis, Tennessee
Both the Nashville Tennessean and the Memphis Commercial Appeal ran a story yesterday about the average length of stay for inmates in Tennessee prisons. The story relies heavily on a Pew Center on the States report that measured the average length of stay for people sent to prison in 35 states. The story turns on the finding that Tennessee inmates served less time than all but three other states in the study, serving an average of 1.9 years.
The story continues by noting that this average is lower than it has been in quite some time. Importantly, “state officials” point out that despite this shortening of average time served, sentences for violent crimes have risen 41% over that same time.
What is NOT mentioned in the article and will likely be lost in any analysis that follows, are the crushing consequences of the convictions from which these sentences arose. There is much more to a criminal conviction than the sentence imposed by the court.
Society’s punishment for wrongdoing continues long after the gavel drops and the jailer unlocks the doors.
Whether it be lifetime assignment to a registry, loss of voting rights, crushing financial debt or the permanent stigma of a conviction, climbing back into the mainstream is, more often than not, impossible for the 95% of all prisoners who will eventually be released back into their communities.
Consider the following:
- A recent Brennan Center for Justice study of criminal justice debt in 15 states found that 15 of 15 states impose fees that attach upon conviction; 15 of 15 states impose parole, probation or other supervision fees; and 15 of 15 states have laws authorizing the imposition of jail or prison fees.
- 15-27% of prisoners expect to go to homeless shelters after release according to the Second Chance Act of 2004.
- A California study found that 60 to 80% of prisoners are unemployed one year after release.
- There are at least 180 statutes in Tennessee that limit or restrict some right or privilege upon criminal conviction.
We applaud Tennessee’s economic approach to prison sentences. However, no matter how little time they’ve served, most of these former prisoners are wholly unprepared for reintegration into our communities. We know without a doubt that unsheltered, uneducated, unemployed and financially burdened former prisoners return to prison at alarming rates.
And we know that money well spent on re-entry programs like New York’s Center for Employment Opportunities (C.E.O.) reduces recidivism.
A revolving door that simply spins faster is hardly a victory in the battle for justice in our community.
Read JustCity for more stories of justice from Memphis and beyond.
Will public policy follow public opinion on crime and sentencing? Let’s hope so.
A report released last week by the Pew Center on the States reflects a significant shift in how Americans view our large and over-populated prison systems.
The bottom line is presented like this: “Some of the money that we are spending on locking up low-risk, non-violent inmates should be shifted to strengthening community corrections programs like probation and parole.”
Other key findings . . .
– A plurality of Americans believe there are too many people in prisons.
– A strong majority, even among victims, believes prison is not always the best response to non-violent crimes.
– All the approaches examined to reduce prison time served are broadly acceptable to voters.
– Nearly all voters prioritize preventing recidivism over time served, even when prison time varies up to a year.
Browse through this report. Do you agree? Are Memphis and Tennessee prepared to shift the approach to sentencing?