Now is the Time to Answer the Call
This week the Senate Judiciary Committee introduced The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act which is meant to relieve the overcrowded federal prison population. This is the first step towards reversing harsh penalties that were inflicted mainly on the minority communities in response to the crack epidemic of the 80’s and 90’s. The offenders that are eligible for early release are non-violent drug offenders that were sent to prison during mandatory sentencing. This might be “yahoo” moment for the inmates that will possibly have their sentences reduced and for their families that are anxiously awaiting their return. However, it is very likely that the daily reality that lead them to a life of drug trafficking or usage will still be the most promising option available to them when they return home. At the forefront of the African American agenda should be to have literacy and drug treatment programs in every edifice that we have access to and to begin lobbying for access to federal funds for training and college programs for convicted felons.
Many African American, particularly those that are living a criminal lifestyle, are illiterate. Without the benefit of basic literacy, it will be even harder if not impossible for ex-offenders to navigate through the employment process which almost exclusively computer based. Many of these men who were sent to prison in their late teens and early 20’s are now in their 30’s, 40’s or maybe even 50’s. Most adult education programs aren’t designed to teach men of this age group basic literacy. All talks about finding a job and changing your life are useless in today’s world if you cannot read and write.
People cannot peddle a product that isn’t selling and thankfully the popularity of crack-cocaine once had in the 80’s and 90’s has subsided. And before the next “it” drug hits the market, we have the opportunity to get a handle on the addictions in our community. Every church in the African American community should start sponsoring CA, AA and Alon-Meetings. This is an easy and simple way for those with addictions to discuss their issues as users and for their families to receive emotional support.
Simply letting these men go free is not going to change the sociological and economic conditions that we are facing in our communities. Without the benefit of training or education most of these men do not possess any marketable trade that they will enable them to live independently or become head of household. There is some legislation being passed around that would allow convicted felons to become eligible for Pell grants and other federal subsidies. Right now convicted felons cannot receive any federal subsidies for food, housing or education.
It is wonderful that America has recognized that mandatory minimum sentencing was a flawed policy. However men these men might not find the world that they are coming home to very welcoming. Now is the time for African Americans to begin putting together programs that will ensure that those men that are truly ready to turn their lives around have programs in place to assist them with this transition. When there are opportunities for legislative changes we should be at the forefront asking if not demanding that changes be made to correct the injustices that our people have suffered. However, the real changes will take place when we stop burying our heads in the sand and help our brothers to help themselves. If ever there was a time when African Americans needed to step up and take back their families, neighborhoods and communities it is now.