As part of his personal research on the “criminal justice non-system,” Mr. Juwan Bennett, a 21 year-old McNair Scholar, is visiting 25 of the 26 prisons in the state of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Bennett, a teaching assistant at Temple University who’s in the first year of his PhD program, says the experience is teaching him a lot, and that the next Mayor of Philadelphia – or all the candidates currently vying for the job for that matter – could benefit from spending a night behind bars, in general population.
Though the food, he says, is quite tasty, real problems exist behind the tall walls of penitentiaries that house Philadelphians who’ll eventually return home, and the city’s next chief executive needs to institute real reforms, which, in order to be authentic, measured and effective, can only come from a firsthand experience.
Mr. Bennett, who teaches three classes at the famed North Philadelphia institution – The Nature of Crime, Victims of the Criminal Justice System, and Criminal Behavior – believes everyone should spend at least one night in prison, but thinks its even more important for mayoral candidates, as they need to understand that the “criminal justice non-system” they’ll govern as it stands today is a human rights violation.
Mr. Bennett, once a semester, takes his students to the female and male prisons in the City. Many of the youth, he said, expressed sympathy for the way in which human beings were caged like animals, particularly because the majority of inmates are non-violent offenders.
“The prisoners are just wasting time sitting in a cell. The goal isn’t to reform the inmate anymore,” said Mr. Bennett, who confirmed his attendance for the April 29th mayoral forum on police and criminal justice reform, hosted by Catalyst for Change Church.
“96 percent of all American prisoners are coming home at some point in time. We need correctional practices that get people ready for jobs, or at least prepared to create them through entrepreneurship training. All we do now is just lock people up and let them go. The Department of Corrections is just housing for the sentence. If inmates get reformed while imprisoned, than great, but that’s no longer the goal of correctional facilities… The system is overworked.”
Outside of the War on Drugs, which was the catalyst for mass incarceration, Mr. Bennett says another major problem is the fact that the systems don’t talk to each other.
“Courts don’t rely on police; corrections don’t have to rely on courts, it’s not a system,” he states, adding that the next mayor needs to find incentives to get the systems to talk to each other.
When asked what are the top three criminal justice reforms the next Mayor of Philadelphia should institute, Mr. Bennett recommended the following:
1) Change the rationale for punishment and focus on how to integrate people back into mainstream society after they serve their sentence.
2) Incorporate scholars back into the conversation around policy development. Mr. Bennett says scholars at criminal justice policy tables can debunk common social myths, like sentence length impacts future events, or that stop-and-frisk is an effective crime fighting tool.
3) Understand the maladies inside prisons by trying to change conditions.
Nobody wants to talk about criminal justice reform, says Mr. Bennett, “but we need to move to a place where governments and communities work together to mitigate crime and improve the quality of life among all citizens, jailed or not.”
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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