Monday, November 28, 2011
Researching crime and crime prevention on the internet over the weekend led me to an interesting article. Mike Chalmers published an article in a recent USA Today describing an innovative crime-reduction program that officials in Providence have implemented. The police work together with prosecutors and others in the neighborhood, video recording wayward citizens who transgress the law by selling drugs. Rather than immediately arresting the offenders and locking them in jail or prisons, the police approach them and present them with the evidence of their wrongdoing. They give the offenders an option. Either they cease their criminal activity and accept assistance designed to lift them from a life of crime and into a life of meaning, or they can face the harsh consequences that accompany a criminal prosecution.
The plan stems from the work of David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. I applaud the effort. Our society benefits from progressive programs designed to help individuals develop values, skills, and resources that translate into productive lives.
For far too long we have relied upon confinement as the best response for unlawful behavior. Although some offenders have proven themselves too dangerous to live among us in society, we now lock up too many people in America. We confine 2.3 million people in jails and prisons at a cost of $75 billion per year. It’s expensive and unproductive. Many of those offenders would respond better to civil sanctions. As an enlightened society, we should consider a response to criminality that does more than simply punish bad behavior by locking human beings in cages. I’m all for programs that help people live as productive, contributing members of society.
In my work as Executive Director of a public charity, I devote my career to educating people who are in trouble with the law. Although I cannot change the past, or undo their problems with the criminal justice system, what I can do is introduce them to strategies that will help them emerge from the criminal justice system more successfully. One of my programs, which readers may view at www.Straight-A-Guide.com, helps offenders document their journey through the criminal justice system. It provides them with insight, a template to follow that will open opportunities for them. Rather than dwelling on the struggle of confinement, individuals who participate create deliberate plans that empower them to emerge with the values, skills, and resources that translate into success.
At present, we are in the beta stage. I work with at-risk youth and felons inside federal prisons. The self- directed program that I lead provides participants with a sense of hope that they can change their lives for the better. I am a direct beneficiary of the program, as I once struggled with the hopelessness that accompanies a criminal prosecution. I had been a stock broker with a prestigious firm, leading a life of affluence. Bad decisions followed a sense of complacency, and those decisions brought me into the jaws of the criminal justice system. I lost everything that I worked hard to create since graduating from the University of Southern California ten years earlier. I paid six-figure legal bills, then lost years of my life to the criminal justice system. My financial losses could not compare to my loss of self esteem. I couldn’t believe that I was spiraling down the drain of the criminal justice system.
While serving my sentence in a minimum-security federal prison camp, however, I found some hope through the Straight-A-Guide program. It inspired me to change my life. I disciplined myself in every way, using the time in prison to prepare for the launching of a new life upon release. It led to my writing Lessons From Prison and Ethics in Motion, two books I wrote to help others going through similar problems. It led to my building a national speaking career. And it led to my launching of the Michael G. Santos Foundation, a nonprofit that helps me distribute this work to at-risk youth and others struggling through the criminal justice system.
Prison shouldn’t be the only response to wayward behavior, but I can’t do much about the punitive ways of our system. What I can do is use my extensive experience to help those who are going through the criminal justice system understand what is ahead, and create strategies together with them that will lead to more fulfilling lives upon release. If you’re facing legal problems and want help, give me a call. I can assist in a way an attorney cannot. I can be reached at 818-424-2220 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.