My September 2011 Editorial from The Deuce Club* –“The Re-entry World Just Got a Little Larger”

There’s this joke among insiders inside the re-entry world, that when you go to these re-entry conferences and the like, that you see “the usual suspects.” This speaks to the fact that there’s a small passionate group committed to doing work within the re-entry world, many of them formerly incarcerated.

As we all know by now, re-entry became a buzzword in the latter part of the 1990s. As a society, specifically from the government’s point of view, at the federal, state and local levels, because of fiscal issues — we were spending too much money to maintain ineffective prison systems that yielded high returns of recidivism — and tough economic times, we had to seriously look at the feasibility of spending so much money locking so many people up for so long with such diminishing returns. And in locking so many people up, since Richard Nixon, campaigning for the presidency in 1968, inaugurated the modern “war on crime,” in the 1990s we had to face the fact that many of the people we started locking up in the late 1960s and early and mid-1970s were completing their sentences and were being released, whether we liked it or not: they had served their time, paid their proverbial debt to society, and now it was their time to re-enter society; and most people return from prison. More recently, in New York, we began with reforming the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, something advocates had unsuccessfully been trying to do for as long as the Laws were on the books, since the early 1970s. Academics even began to write that there was a way to safely release people from prison without compromising public safety. And, lo and behold, at the same time, the prison population in New York State was dramatically decreasing. Many politicians, from former New York Governor George Pataki to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to the current Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, take credit for this reduction in crime and, whether they like it or not, the reduction of the prison population. (The current efforts to reform the parole law in New York is directly related to former Governor Pataki’s parole policy not to release people who had the lowest recidivism rates of all people confined in prisons because of the “nature of their crimes,” mostly homicide-related offenses which, not so coincidentally, began with the reduction of crime and the many people who had served their time becoming eligible for parole, and serious talk of reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws which, since the 1970s, as well as the 1980s with the explosion of crack, exponentially filled our prisons with people convicted of drug crimes. One could argue that Pataki’s parole policy kept people in prison who perhaps should have been released in order to artificially keep prisons filled to capacity for our prison-loving politicians.) Now, for the first time in the State’s history, we are talking about closing prisons. In the 1980s, the First Cuomo presided over unprecedented prison construction. Now, in the New Millennium, under the current Governor, the Second Cuomo, we are going to close prisons. Ironically, the “war on crime” in New York can claim a victory, reduction in crime and the prison population, yet the old guard politicians who campaigned on the politics of “more prisons” and “longer prison terms,” who have a vested interest in an expanded prison system we no longer need, because they locked themselves into the “tough on crime” politics, and locked their constituents into depending on prisons for employment, looking at prisons as economic engines for their districts, do not want to close prisons we do not need, at least not for the confinement of people convicted of crimes. But that’s another story.

From the re-entry world, we have three major events on the horizon: one, The Think Outside the Cell Symposium on September 24th; two, WORTH’s (Women on the Rise Telling HerStory) seventh Anniversary on October 20th, along with its inauguration of the Susan Hallett Reentry Award (see Page 8); and Citizens Against Recidivism’s Annual Citizens Awards on October 29th. Significantly, all three of these events, and these entities, are spearheaded and was created by people impacted by the criminal justice system, namely, the wife of an incarcerated man, with his assistance from behind the wall; formerly and incarcerated women and women (family members of the incarcerated) impacted by the criminal justice system; and the wife of an incarcerated man and the incarcerated man himself.

At the Think Outside the Cell Symposium, there’s a cast of characters in the lineup that we can’t consider the “usual suspects” in the re-entry world in New York, namely, The Rev. Al Sharpton; Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker; Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow; CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien; “Chef Jeff” Henderson of the Food Network; Randall Robinson; CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Bryon Pitts; Terrie Williams, youth advocate and author of Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting; Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; El Diario La Prensa publisher Rossana Rosado; Marc Lamont Hill, Black Enterprise TV; and of course some of the “usual suspects,” namely, Alan Rosenthal, Center for Community Alternatives; Julio Medina, Founder and Executive Director, Exodus Transitional Community; and Jeremy Travis, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and author of a journal article entitled: “But They All Come Back: Rethinking Reentry.”

At the Think Outside the Cell Symposium, there’s a cast of characters in the lineup that we can’t consider the “usual suspects” in the re-entry world in New York, namely, The Rev. Al Sharpton; Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker; Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow; CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien; “Chef Jeff” Henderson of the Food Network; Randall Robinson; CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Bryon Pitts; Terrie Williams, youth advocate and author of Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting; Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; El Diario La Prensa publisher Rossana Rosado; Marc Lamont Hill, Black Enterprise TV; and of course some of the “usual suspects,” namely, Alan Rosenthal, Center for Community Alternatives; Julio Medina, Founder and Executive Director, Exodus Transitional Community; and Jeremy Travis, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and author of a journal article entitled: “But They All Come Back: Rethinking Reentry.”

Anyone in the criminal justice field, anyone impacted by incarceration, needs to attend these events, beginning with the Think Outside the Cell Symposium.

The more people that attend this Symposium, the more the re-entry world will get a little larger, in a good way.

Let’s make it a new day, a new way.

*The Deuce Club is the newsletter of The Coaliton for Parole Restoration (CPR). To learn more about CPR, visit our website at http://www.parolecpr.org.

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About ezwaters

Award-winning poet, playwright and writer. Author of three books of poetry, "Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present"; "Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats"; "The Black Feminine Mystique," and a novel, "Streets of Rage." All four books are available on Amazon.com.
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