I am thankful that I received an email from Emily Ghant of the Atlanta Bar Association last week. Her email prompted me to consider expressing my thoughts on how incarceration affects real people every day.
The effect is negative in almost every circumstance.
First, it is obvious that some people are not fit to live in society. Extremely violent criminals, child predators, and those who pose a constant threat to our community must be locked up. For these few folks, there is just no reasonable alternative.
However, most people in jails and prisons do not fit into this category. Most inmates, whether they admit it or not, put themselves there by succumbing to their own demons of addiction.
Well, how does this affect people on the outside? Tremendously.
Victims of crimes suffer the most. This suffering varies in degrees based on the nature of the offense. Those who have been victims of thefts and other lesser felony offenses can and do get past the violations of their personal liberty.
However, victims of violent or sexual crimes often never fully recover. While therapy and time heals wounds, some people will never be able to live full and happy lives.
While incarcerating this class of criminals for many years can fulfill a victim’s sense of justice or even vengeance, the incarceration does not take away the pain.
What about the families of inmates? Convicted felons leave behind family and friends who oftentimes had nothing to do with the inmate’s crimes.
As a parent, I cannot image one of my young sons ever going to prison. The thought is almost unbearable. Yet, in Georgia alone, there are thousands of parents who live with this reality every single day. Many of these parents will die before their son or daughter is released from prison.
By far, the most devastating impact is on the children. Many of these children come from a culture of incarceration. They grow up seeing their uncles, brothers, and cousins going to prison. For some kids, it is almost a normal occurrence.
But, what about when their parents are incarcerated? This has a chilling effect on almost every facet of a child’s life. This includes, but is not limited to the following truths:
1. A father cannot be a father when he is locked away in a remote prison or even in the county jail. There is absolutely no parenting whatsoever. A child with an incarcerated parent is lucky to have another involved parent or other family members who have “stepped up” to raise the child. Sadly, many of these children are in DFCS custody.
2. Taking children to “visit” parents in jail is common. However, I disagree with this practice. It further “normalizes” the situation;
3. A father cannot financially support his children in jail. This is obvious. While many inmates are unemployed, some are hardworking productive members of society when they are clean and sober. The darkness of addiction envelops many men and women in this category; and
4. Hate and fear develop within many of these children. They will be much more likely to commit crimes themselves, become involved in the juvenile justice system, and eventually go to prison themselves.
I realize that this is not the most uplifting column I have written. But, as Ms. Ghant reminded me, it is something I have seen with my own eyes for many years. I have a duty to report these findings to my community.
Fortunately, Governor Deal has lead the way in instituting non-violent drug offender reforms, promoted drug and mental health courts, and has put some offenders back to work while on parole via earlier release dates.
I pray that our State will continue to positively address the devastating effects of incarceration. It will save our taxpayers millions of dollars and more importantly have a positive impact on the most important people in Georgia, our children.