The Hard Truth About Being Tough On Crime

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The "tough on crime" refrain echoed through election seasons for decades. Recently, though, elected officials from both parties are acknowledging the unintended consequences of minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes and lining up behind alternative approaches.

During his term, President Obama's criminal justice reform work generated plenty of press. But it's just one segment of the larger restorative justice movement that aims to address crime with an approach that's both innovative and rooted in traditional community principles.

Restorative Justice Week sheds light on this movement. The restorative justice approach seeks to resolve conflict between the victim and offender in a way that promotes resolution, respect, active responsibility, and making amends.

The goal is to return harmony, contentment, security, and wellbeing to the community. This method allows a dialect between offenders and victims, allowing offenders are able to move past their crime and victims are also able to move on with their lives feel at peace once amends have been made.

In contrast, consider the effects of the traditional "tough" approach to non-violent crimes on one single mother.

When she was 20 years old, Lisa Creason tried to rob a Subway She ran away when confronted by an employee, but was caught and sentenced to three years in prison for attempted robbery.

Now, 21 years later, that incarceration prevents her from working as a registered nurse, despite her degree and qualifications. Instead, she relies on public assistance to support her family.

Although she served her time, Lisa's prison sentence amounts to lifelong punishment when it comes to her ability to get a job.

When job applications require candidates to check a box answering the question"Have you ever been convicted on a crime?" people like Lisa don't stand a chance. Many people convicted of a crime are ready to work, but can't get past "the box."

Questions about criminal history disproportionately affect minority, poor, and less educated populations, as all of these groups are overrepresented in the number of arrests and in prison populations.

The cards are stacked against successful reentry into society when having a record deters employment, which is the single most important influence on decreasing recidivism. The result is a vicious cycle of crime, incarceration, and poverty.

The criminal justice system is in desperate need for reform. The United States has less than 5% of the world's population, yet holds a quarter of the world's prisoners, with recidivism rates of over 60%.

Restorative justice, which is taking hold in school districts and police precincts around the country, seeks to break the cycle of recidivism through education and actions that create more community healing.

The Sycamore Tree Project for example, works to change offenders' mindset prior to reentry into society. This 5-to-8 week prison program brings groups of crime victims into prison to meet with groups of unrelated offenders to have conversations about responsibility, confession, repentance, forgiveness, amends, and reconciliation.

Keep in mind that 72% of those imprisoned are for nonviolent offenses, which generally don't involve the use of force or result in physical injury to another person. Examples include theft, larceny, and bribery. Yet nonviolent offenses can carry prison sentences.

As an employer, you can help support efforts like these by banning the box. Give people with a criminal record the opportunity to start fresh.

Check out these resources for understanding the restorative justice movement and criminal justice reform, then join the conversation on Twitter @goodhiretweets #RJWeek.

  1. Restorative Justice in the Criminal Justice System: This site provides many resources on the criminal justice system and the need for restorative justice programs in prisons.
  2. Prison Fellowship International: Restoring Justice: The Prison Fellowship International has piloted many programs to help restore justice in the criminal justice system. Their initiatives focus on relationships, accountability, human rights, and transformation to reduce recidivism rates.
  3. Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?: This New York Times article shares the story of a 19-year-old boy who murdered his girlfriend and able to make amends with her parents within the restorative justice method.
  4. Building a Prison-to-Purpose Pipeline for Women: Andrea James experienced first hand the struggles that women face after being incarcerated and created the Families for Justice as Healing to help women reintegrate into society.
  5. President Obama Announces New Actions to Promote Rehabilitation and Reintegration for the Formerly-Incarcerated: President Obama announced efforts to address the cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration. Check out this resource on how the government is working to pass meaningful criminal justice reform policies.
  6. Inside Criminal Justice: Criminologist William R. Kelly assesses the American criminal justice system and presents his thoughts on reform.
  7. How the Formerly Incarcerated Re-Enter Society: This video talks about some organizations working with prisoners upon their release through forms of housing support and job training.
  8. WJP Rule of Law Index: The World Justice Project provides data on how the rule of law is experienced by people in 102 countries, including shows areas of corruption in different areas, and where we should focus attention on Restorative Justice.
  9. Economic Costs of Youth Disadvantage and High-Return Opportunities for Change: This White House Report outlines the barriers of success for disadvantaged youth, the lasting impacts of socio-economic status, and how the criminal justice system play a role in these barriers.
  10. BHP Community Legal: The Bayview/Hunters Point (BHP) Community Legal site brings to light some examples of laws that are in need of justice reform.
Lauren Small

Lauren Small

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Lauren Small is a content and social media expert who writes about hiring, onboarding, and HR best practices. Lauren comes by her HR insight honestly, having observed the culture at diverse employers Amazon, HubSpot, and GoodHire’s parent company Inflection.

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