QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Mothers in Prison, Children in Crisis--Campaign '95
WHAT IS THE MOTIVATION BEHIND THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN?
Imprisonment must become the last recourse in legal sanctions, not the first, as demonstrated by the skyrocketing jail and prison rates and the draconian prison sentences, that have become the prevailing trend in this country. Prison expansion and the spreading epidemic of imprisonment have not reduced the threat of violence in our society. Instead they have given us the second highest incarceration rate in the world (1.5 million behind bars, most of whom have committed non-violent crimes), siphoned off massive funds to the correctional establishment that could be used to eradicate the roots of crime, fueled the already escalating racial cancer that eats away at our nation's soul, and undermined our cherished principles of democracy. With the passing of the recent federal crime legislation, it is becoming clear to us that the major danger we face in this society is not crime, but the misconceived fight against crime. We believe that the time has come for the U.S. public to confront the fact that the failed criminal justice policies of the past two decades have increased the prison population four-fold. We, the American people, urgently need a humane, constructive and cost-effective response to our national crime problem.
WHY IS THE CAMPAIGN FOCUSED ON MOTHERS, WHO CONSTITUTE A SMALL PERCENTAGE OF THE OVERALL PRISON POPULATION?
Although women represent a relatively small percentage of the prison population, their rate of imprisonment has escalated beyond that for men. And 76% of these imprisoned women are mothers, most often the sole caregivers for their dependent children. Over the past three years nearly 200 organizations nationwide, both secular and religious, have participated in JusticeWorks Community's Mother's Day Awareness Event to remember mothers in prison, and the children who are in crisis --- as a result of separation by incarceration. We believe this campaign will be a catalyst for enabling citizens to see the destructive aspects of the criminal justice system, especially imprisonment, on women and children. Through this campaign and in the next few years of continued organizing and on-going debate, we will reframe the issues around mothers, families and communities, juxtaposing it against the current "vengeance and imprisonment" mentality. We believe that by natural extension, we will begin to challenge criminal justice concerns for all women and men in the system.
WHY SHOULD ALTERNATIVES BECOME THE SENTENCING STANDARD? WOULDN'T INCREASING THE NUMBER OF ALTERNATIVES BE ENOUGH?
Alternatives have been legislatively endorsed for more than 20 years. In spite of documented research that alternatives are cost-effective, they have been underfunded. In spite of documented research that alternatives are enforceable and have an significant effect on recidivism, they have been underutilized. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, alternatives have been notoriously manipulated and abused, contributing to a "widening of the net" of state observation, surveillance and control. No one doubts that all races and classes of society commit crimes, but we reserve our jails and prisons--our harshest penaltzes--for African Americans, other people of color, and the poor. The stage has been set once again to focus a nation-wide effort on creating alternatives at every level of the criminal justice system. Alternatives will not reduce or replace the cost of incarceration until they are implemented widely enough to reduce or replace the use of incarceration. Hence, the movement for alternatives to become the standard sentencing policy.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ALTERNATIVES TO IMPRISONMENT?
Alternatives to incarceration include community work service, restitution, employment/job training assistance, alcohol and substance abuse treatment, probation, deferred sentencing, suspended sentence, conditional or supervised release, dispute resolution, fines, house arrest, residential care, and counseling.
WHAT'S THE COST OF ALTERNATIVES VERSUS IMPRISONMENT?
Imprisonment is the most expensive of all legal sanctions ranging from $25,000 to $60,000 annually per prisoner. For women with children the cost is higher. On the average, mothers in prison have two or more children. To place these children in foster care costs an additional $20,000 per child. Alternatives can cost from as little as $2,000 for community supervision to a full residential treatment program at $20,000. Alternatives cost less and support family values by keeping families together.
Contact: Constance M. Baugh
National Headquarters-- Mothers in Prison, Children in Crisis
1012 Eighth Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215