Saturday, December 25, 2004

Martha Stewart's Christmas Message: Prison Reform Now!

Martha Stewart, whose trial brought the problem of 18 USC 1001 to our attention, calls for prison reform in her Christmas message:
So many of the [1,200] women here in Alderson will never have the joy and wellbeing that you and I experience. Many of them have been here for years -- devoid of care, devoid of love, devoid of family.

I beseech you all to think about these women -- to encourage the American people to ask for reforms, both in sentencing guidelines, in length of incarceration for nonviolent first-time offenders, and for those involved in drug-taking. They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate, no way to be prepared for life "out there" where each person will ultimately find herself, many with no skills and no preparation for living.
Stewart's opinion is shared by many. A poll conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. shows that public attitudes toward criminal justice have changed dramatically: "In 1994, . . . 48% favored addressing the causes of crime and 42% preferred the punitive approach. . . . The public now favors dealing with the roots of crime over strict sentencing by a two to one margin, 65% to 32%" (emphasis added, Changing Public Attitudes toward the Criminal Justice System, February 2002). What is most heartening is that rehabilitation and reentry programs have surprisingly broad-based support:
Americans strongly favor rehabilitation and reentry programs over incapacitation as the best method of ensuring public safety. Nearly two-thirds of all Americans (66%) agree that the best way to reduce crime is to rehabilitate prisoners by requiring education and job training so they have the tools to turn away from a life of crime, while just one in three (28%) believe that keeping criminals off the streets through long prison sentences would be the more effective alternative.

This idea has broad-based support, with solid majorities of whites (63% / 31%), fundamentalist Protestants (55% / 36%), and Republicans (55% / 38%) supporting rehabilitation over incapacitation as the best way to reduce crime. Interestingly, the 23% of Americans who report that they or a close family member have been the victim of a violent crime endorse rehabilitation even more strongly than the general public, by a decisive 73% to 21% margin. (emphasis added, February 2002)
Perhaps, Stewart's call for prison reform won the hearts and minds of many incarcerated women and their families, and she found herself in their prayers:
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., among the biggest U.S. targets of "short selling" last month, rallied amid optimism that the company can rebound from its namesake's jail term and return to profitability.

Shares of the media and housewares company rose 43 percent during the past six weeks in New York Stock Exchange composite trading and reached $30.05, a four-year high, on Dec. 15.

Thirty-one percent of the New York-based company's shares available for trading were sold short, or borrowed and sold to profit from lower prices, as of Nov. 9. The figure was in the top 5 percent for U.S.-listed companies. (Laure Edwards, "Martha Stewart Living's Shares Gain, Thwarting 'Short Sellers,'", December 21, 2004)
Let's make sure that no prisoner will be sold short and that all prisoners -- especially incarcerated women, more than 70 percent of whom are nonviolent offenders and almost all of whom are classified as "low risk" (Vincent Schiraldi and Judith Greene, "Cutting Prison Costs is Tempting in Times of Fiscal Crisis," San Diego Union-Tribune, February 27, 2002) -- will be able to rebound more strongly than Stewart's company did.


Anonymous said...

Regarding Martha Stewart and her comments regarding incarceration. For the past 10 yrs advocates of rehabilitation in our prisons have fought tiresly for more programming and education for the people in prison. Unfortunately, those lawmakers "tough on crime" have seen fit to cut rather than promote education and programs that have proven to prevent recidivism. Hopefully those in power will heed Martha's advice.

Clara Listensprechen said...

Yes, the concerns Martha gives voice to are old familiar ones; it's going to take a celebrity to move that mountain. By how much is another question, and how long would that last. After enjoying the 15 minutes of fame, who's to say that things won't return to business as usual anyway?