League of Women Voters hot topics event on prison reform

On Wednesday Feb. 20, The League of Women Voters will be presenting a discussion on Prison Reform at the Clarion Hotel. The speaker, Professor Patrick Johnson, is a Lecturer at the State University of New York at Fredonia teaching Criminal Justice. Prior to joining the college in 2013 Professor Johnson was the Warden of the Chautauqua County Jail for seven years. He retired from the Sheriff’s Office after 31 years of service in the Corrections Division. Professor Johnson is the Co-Chair of the Chautauqua County Community Justice Coordinating Council, the Coordinator of the Chautauqua County Re-entry Task Force, and consultant for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, and the National Institute of Corrections. He is also a guest speaker for corrections-related topics for CNN and other news networks.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are over 2,000,000 incarcerated adults in the United States. The United States has more prisoners than any other nation in the world. Even with a population around four times the size of the United States, China only has around 1,500,000 prisoners according to a study by BBC News. All these prisoners receive housing, food, and medical treatment at the expense of the US taxpayer. The Bureau of Prisons lists the average cost of incarceration for a federal inmate at $34,704.12 per year in 2017. In New York State the cost per year is around $60,000. As prisoners age, this cost increases dramatically. According to the LA Times, housing a prisoner in California costs over $75,000 per year, more than a year at Harvard.

Private prisons are also an issue in the United States. Private prisons are contracted by the government and are paid based on the number of prisoners per day. In the contracts, private prisons are guaranteed a certain occupancy rate. This means that even if they have less than a stated percentage of prisoners, the government still pays for that higher rate. Since a private prison is for profit, it would be in their best interest to deny parole and hold inmates for the full length of their sentence, in turn costing the government more money. Private prisons usually have lower standards for staffing which results in less guards, creating a more dangerous scenario for both workers and inmates alike.

The model for prison in the United States is mainly focused on punishment of prisoners. A more effective model for prisons can be found in some Scandinavian countries. Their programs are focused more on the rehabilitation of prisoners and how the system can help inmates to transition into society and abstain from further criminal activity that will result in more incarceration. The American correctional system should focus on how to rehabilitate its inmates rather than seeking to punish them. There is a massive need for reentry programs that help those being released to find jobs, housing, and a stable lifestyle. Making these people productive members of society should be the main goal.

This discussion will be held at the Clarion Hotel at 12 p.m. on Wednesday Feb. 20. Luncheon selections include either Pasta Alfredo with Broccoli, Beef on Weck or a Cobb Salad. The cost is $15 per person. Reservations should be made to Nicki Schoenl, 2916 Rt. 39, Forestville, NY, 14062, 679-1258 or schoenl@netsync.net. The deadline for reservations is Feb. 13.

Those who do not want to have lunch,could come at 12:30 for the presentation.

For more information about the League of Women Voters of Chautauqua County, visit http://www.lwvchautauqua.org or https://www.facebook.com/leagueofwomenvoterschautauqua/