Prison reform is important not only because of the humanist value of compassion, but because of the need to focus on recidivism rates, rather than retribution. There is no evidence that harsher penalties reduce crime (e.g., Smith, Goggin & Gendreau, 2002). In contrast, education is one of the best ways to reduce recidivism (e.g., Contardo & Erisman, 2005). AFSC has also developed an anti-violence mentorship program, Friend of a Friend, to reduce recidivism.
In addition, as AFSC reports, the United States leads the world in population incarcerated (2.4 million people, about 25% of the world’s prisoners). More than 60% of those people are racial minorities, many of them imprisoned for drug-related offenses. And of the women, fully two-thirds are the primary caregiver of their children. This serves to perpetuate racial inequalities in education, income, and voting rights.
In addition, AFSC provides a list of activities that groups can do to support humane incarceration, including volunteering to visit prisoners through the Prisoner Visitation and Support organization, support prisoners and their families after their release by helping with meals, transportation, school applications and enrollment, job searches, or even a place to live. Groups can also develop programs to educate prisoners (like our former beneficiary Prison University Project) and respond to AFSC’s calls to action fighting prison privatization, solitary confinement, and the death penalty. Although this list is meant for Quaker congregations, the activities they outline are great opportunities for you and your local humanist group to serve your community. Contact Beyond Belief Network Coordinator Brittany Shoots-Reinhard if your local group is interested in community service opportunities.