Many of those who play a leading role inside prison and who reenter society as policy advocates and service providers are people who have been convicted of violent crimes, including murder. Yet each day as we hear new calls to reduce mass incarceration, policy leaders as well as many people active in prison reform movements call for changes that focus on those incarcerated for non-violent crimes and often are explicit about the need to leave those convicted of violent crimes in prison.
Such calls ignore the positive roles played by long-termers inside the prison and when they come home, the low recidivism rates of longtermers, the large percentage of people in prison for violent crimes, and the basic values of rehabilitation, redemption, transformation and justice.
The framework has to fundamentally change of how people are defined who have been convicted and served time. Instead of seeing individuals solely as bad people, who did bad things and have to “be rehabilitated,” and continually punished and feared after returning from prison, people have to be viewed as individuals with strengths, creativity, and possibility, and capable of changing their own lives and in creating opportunities for change amongst their peers and within the larger society. The narrative must include individual accountability and social responsibility with attention paid to the details of people’s lives. A new framework will view incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people are a force for change challenging the very dehumanization and related racism that is a fundamental building block of the present system of mass incarceration.