But how many folks say, "Someday I hope my child grows up to be a Correction Officer or a Prison Chaplin or a Warden"? I know third and forth generation military families, law enforcement families, firefighter families, teachers' families who consider their honorable public service worth the challenges. But not so much for Correctional Officers laboring in dangerous and often unpleasant and hostile environments requiring extraordinary vigilance to keep each other, themselves and the incarcerated folks safe in persistently difficult situations. The near constant anxiety, frequent pressure to act unethically, low salaries, 24-7 scheduling, growing overcrowding, constant exposure to angry, sad, fearful, hopeless folks and pernicious danger leads to physical illness, fractured families and too often overwhelming sorrow.
Even if only 10% of the incarcerated population has embraced violent and outrageous behaviors, this is a losing situation for all folks inside the walls. And the less hope there is for a better tomorrow, the worse the odds get as more incarcerated people are subject to the unwanted attention of the worst offenders. The poorer are working conditions the harder it becomes to attract high-functioning, able and ethical prison staff which leads to staffing shortages which makes facilities more dangerous than ever.
Then we have the people at the top of the chain of command, the elected officials who either believe there are no better ways than what we currently have or the ones who feed the fears of their electorate with promises of "getting tougher" even as crime rates do not improve and folks who complete their sentences or are released on parole re-offend in ever higher percentages while crime rates fail to drop and even rise and as whole communities continue to flounder.
We are incarcerating AND failing to rehabilitate such a stunning portion of our overall population that from a purely financial point of view this is a growing disaster. When looked at from a humanitarian perspective is it unconscionable...and unparalleled in the world.
Rikers Island has been found to be place of appalling abuse, filth, waste, danger, public health concerns and inconceivable working conditions that are the entrenched norm have required federal court intervention. It is so horrible there is now consensus that "something must be done as fast as possible" and they think they may be able to close it down in 10 years (a reduction from the Mayor's earlier "hope" they could do it in 20 years) if they can reduce the incarcerated population from the current 10,000 to 5,000 and raise $1.39 BILLION dollars (which will be estimated to save $1.4 million per year) .*
Praying is essential, but following through with churches and their members in advocating, educating and working to reduce the number of children lost, improve conditions of incarceration and step in to mentor those who have completed their time of incarceration and long to return to or to become contributing members in their families and communities.