VOL. 10 | NO. 32 | Saturday, August 5, 2017
The Memphis News Editorial
Editorial: The Ultimate Sustainability At the Corrections Center
A life is a natural resource, more valuable than the resources being conserved at the Shelby County Corrections Center to great effect. So, with inmate levels at the corrections center currently at a relatively low level, we think there is another kind of opportunity for the aging prison.
It lies in expanding the county’s considerable rehabilitation programs for inmates to also encompass those on the way to incarceration and those who have been released.
Maybe it’s harder to make rehabilitative measures stick when someone isn’t a prisoner.
The concept of rehabilitating individuals outside the prison walls isn’t far from the working principle behind drug court and other specialty courts.
It’s worth some thought as part of an overdue rethinking of criminal justice in Shelby County.
The system already makes all sorts of distinctions: felonies vs. misdemeanors; prisoners who can serve their time here vs. those who must go to a state prison; plea deals vs. no deals; recidivists vs. first-time offenders. And it should be able to go a few steps further.
This is hardly a new idea.
“We have a wonderful parenting program in the institution. But how many parenting programs are offered to the community,” James Coleman told us in 2013 when he was director of the county corrections division. “We can prepare them. We can take them to a hand-off level. It’s almost as if we have decided that once they walk out of our gates they are fixed. They are not.”
The corrections center also oversees a drug rehab program that has a waiting list, and a long enough prison sentence is part of the price of admission.
The answer to that dilemma isn’t doling out longer prison sentences; it’s implementing a longer treatment program that meets the challenge of the transition to freedom.
Our criminal justice system shouldn’t be a set of cogs that grinds up lives unnecessarily.
It should be a process, coherent and cohesive in its design. And that change should be paid for, at least in part, with a shift away from fighting a “war on crime” by spending money the same way we always have: on building more prisons or housing prisoners for longer periods and for a wider variety of crimes.
All of these measures are taken in the name of keeping the rest of us safe. Ask yourself: Do you feel safer?
The supposed cure for our violence and disorder – two very real problems in Memphis – too often ends up spreading what we seek to end.
Corrections leaders deserve kudos for implementing an environmental sustainability program that points the way toward a much more significant type of sustainability.
If we can question how retrofitted lights and solar power could improve the corrections center, we can and should also question the bail bond system and a myriad of other assumptions that affect a far greater resource in our prisons.