What is Giving Compass?
We connect donors to learning resources and ways to support community-led solutions. Learn more about us.
Giving Compass' Take:
• Neil Barsky calls for prison reform to allow the public to have greater contact with prisoners and insights into prison to build consensus around the need for improvement.
• Is this proposal practical and actionable? What barriers currently prevent contact between prisoners and the general public?
• Read a criminal justice reform guide for donors.
Decades after the prison population began its growth surge, criminal justice reform has finally moved into the national conversation.
Last December, President Trump signed the First Step Act, reducing federal prison sentences. Democratic presidential candidates are proposing far-reaching reforms on bail, sentencing, punishments for drug-related crimes and voting rights for incarcerated Americans. New York City is set to close its notorious jail complex on Rikers Island. And Philadelphia, Chicago and other major cities have elected progressive district attorneys.
Unfortunately, what happens inside the walls of the nation’s prisons has not changed at all. They can be stifling in summer and freezing in winter. The residents are often belittled, abused and cut off from anything resembling rehabilitation. Constitutional protections are virtually nonexistent; solitary confinement, to pick one example, is considered torture by much of the world, but is business as usual inside America’s state and federal jails and prisons, home to roughly 2.1 million people.
Here is what the next president, or President Trump, can do to reform mass incarceration: Open up this hidden world to the public. I call my proposal “Let Us In.”
The public should see firsthand the conditions within the walls, to meet the men and women who reside in our prisons, to look them in the eye, shake their hands and teach them skills they can use once they are released. After all, 90 percent of them will end up back among us.
Recent college graduates should receive stipends to teach prisoners languishing with few opportunities for instruction in math or history. Retired schoolteachers could teach literature or science classes. Local college students could receive credit for prison work. And people released from prison should be invited back to tell the men and women they left behind about life on the outside.
Read the full article about "Let Us In" by Neil Barsky at The Marshall Project.