second chances

Many of us spend the holidays with loved ones. No matter if we’ve made some mistakes or had some disagreements with each other, we can practice forgiveness and put our differences aside during this special time of year. The most important thing is that we’re together, safe and sound.

But practicing forgiveness, giving second chances and being safe can happen year-round — not just around the holidays.

Actually, these are some of the ideas activists fight the hardest for. Communities should be a safe place where everyone has opportunities to improve their lives.

That type of community can’t be achieved, though, without a fair criminal justice system. And right now, America has a long way to go before it has one.

For the last 30 to 40 years, America’s criminal justice policies have posed problems for everyone. Taxpayers have been spending billions of dollars on a system that doesn’t make our communities safer or give second chances to deserving people who have paid their debts to society.

Here’s a glimpse at what our system is like right now:

  • The U.S. criminal justice system costs taxpayers more than $250 billion each year.
  • The average state prisoner will be rearrested five times after he or she leaves prison.
  • More than 75 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are rearrested within five years of being released.

Such a high rate of rearrests means that those in prison are not being adequately prepared to re-enter society and be a productive member of the community.

That’s not good for those being released from prison, and it’s not good for communities.

Luckily, programs in states such as Texas and South Carolina have proven that if formerly incarcerated individuals are equipped with education, treatment, and vocational skills, they are less likely to reoffend.

Texas has been a trailblazer in reforming its criminal justice system, showing that expanded rehabilitation programs can decrease the crime rate. South Carolina followed Texas’ lead and, as a result, the number of inmates fell. So, instead of building more prisons, the state closed six and saved $33 million in operating costs.

It’s common sense: Being able to get a job and provide for themselves and their families will help people take full advantage of the second chance they’ve been given to live a positive, productive life.

Yes, the U.S. criminal justice system should punish criminals in proportion to the crime committed and achieve justice for victims. But it should also keep communities safe.

That’s why second chances can be the best gifts, and they can be given during the holidays and every day.

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