How can we most effectively prevent crime? America has invested a lot of money in its prison system. In fact, the FY 2013 budget requests $8.6 billion for federal prisons and detentions according to the US Department of Justice.
However, there is a different, more contemporary thought process that does not agree with this type of spending. Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin is quoted saying, “You need to invest in people, not prisons.” This idea is the driving force behind the Safe Return Project, an initiative led by formerly incarcerated Richmond residents working to help ex-prisoners reintegrate back into society.
Thousands of Richmond residents who have been released from prison struggle to find work. Minorities, particularly Latinos and African-Americans, are disproportionately affected by a harmful incarceration cycle. Two-thirds of residents going to prison have already been before.
Frankly, having your neighbors cycle in and out of prison is not conducive to creating a healthy or sustainable community. How can you help a neighborhood grow if you cannot get hired or find a place to live? The Safe Return Project works to create policies that will provide the necessary resources to these people so they can get back on their feet.
Jonathan Perez is 19-year-old Richmond resident who works on the Project. About a year-and-a-half ago, he was in prison and decided upon his release that he wanted to take his life in a different direction. He succeeded and is now helping others do the same. In an article from the San Ramon Express he states, “I’m living proof that if you give people the opportunity, they will change.”
The system in place creates a vicious cycle for those who got off to a rough start. If you were born into unfortunate circumstance or made a bad choice somewhere along the way, it is difficult to bring yourself back to a place of opportunity. The victims of this cycle formed the Safe Return Project so they could share their experiences and prevent others from having to undergo the same hardships.
What effective community planning projects do you know of in your neighborhood?