Saturday, April 12, 2014

And Throw Away the Keys

One of the biggest travesties in our society today is private prisons and the “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality. 

In my state of Arizona, private prison is a booming business. Why? Lobbyists and government officials who own stock in said corporate prisons.

Many of the higher ranking prison officials who have retired from the state prison find their way into the privatization sector hired as administrators. We would call that “double dipping.”  It’s not illegal nor is it immoral. 

What I find morally wrong with the privatization of prison is the warehousing of human souls. Our state pays the private prison industry per bed, whether it is occupied or not. 

Private prisons do not provide the programming opportunities that the state facilities do and inmate “jobs” are not as readily available. This means the inmate population has more free time, unstructured time. More time to get into trouble.

When our nation began using penitentiaries to incarcerate offenders, it was very different than today’s standards and methods. Just breakdown the word penitentiary or reformatory and seek its true meaning.

Penitentiary = penitent

pen·i·tent [pen-i-tuh nt]

  1. feeling or expressing sorrow for sin or wrongdoing and disposed to atonement and admendment; repentant; contrite. 
  1. a penitent person. 
  2. Roman Catholic Church. a person who confesses sin and submits to a penance. 
Related forms
  1. pen·i·tent·ly, adverb 
  2. non·pen·i·tent, adjective, noun 
  3. un·pen·i·tent, adjective 
  4. un·pen·i·tent·ly, adverb 
remorseful, rueful, sorrowful.
penitent (ˈpɛnɪtənt)

— adj
feeling regret for one's sins; repentant

— n
a person who is penitent

  1. a person who repents his sins and seeks forgiveness for them 
  2. RC Church a person who confesses his sins to a priest and submits to a penance imposed by him 

Reformatory = reform

re·form   [ri-fawrm

  1. the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt,unsatisfactory, etc.: social reform; spelling reform. 
  2. an instance of this. 
  3. the amendment of conduct, belief, etc. 
verb (used with object)
  1. to change to a better state, form, etc.; improve by alteration,substitution, abolition, etc. 
  2. to cause (a person) to abandon wrong or evil ways of life orconduct. 
  3. to put an end to (abuses, disorders, etc.). 
  4. Chemistry - to subject to the process of reforming, as in refining petroleum. 

verb (used without object)
  1. to abandon evil conduct or error: The drunkard promised to reform. 
Related forms
  1. re·form·a·ble, adjective 
  2. re·form·a·bil·i·ty, re·form·a·ble·ness, noun 
  3. re·form·a·tive, adjective 
  4. re·form·a·tive·ly, adverb 
  5. re·form·a·tive·ness, noun 
correction, reformation, betterment, amelioration, better, rectify, correct, amend, emend, ameliorate, repair, restore.
(Definitions provided by

Do we see any true reform happening within the confines of current prison sentencing? Do we see any actual amends to the victims of crime other than the assessments the courts impose?

In the Arizona state facilities inmates were required to raise funds to go towards victim rights programs. How was this done? Funds were raised by selling the inmates items they normally could not get in prison, i.e. a “pan pizza” that cost $5 would be doubled in price and the inmate would pay $10 to get a pizza or maybe a container of ice cream that cost $2.50 would sell for $5.00. This is well and good if the inmate has 1) funds to purchase the item and 2) likes the item being provided.

It is like getting “the goat” from here to there: the goat is attached to a cart. A carrot is attached to a pole. The carrot is dangled just out of reach above the goat’s head to get it to move towards the carrot thus propelling the cart as a means of travel. This depended upon two things: you had something to entice the goat and that the goat was attracted to the item.

Please understand, I am not comparing inmates to goats or vice versa, just the similarity between the two actions. How do I know these things? Nineteen years of working for the Department of Correctons provides me with a bit of knowledge and expertise.

Does an administratively “required” action such as this actually cause the inmate to think about the victim they left in the wake of their crime? I don’t think so. It gives the inmate an opportunity born out of selfishness to have or receive an item they normally do not have a chance to receive.  

I do know of a number of wonderful things that were provided due to funding collected in this manner such as playground equipment for a park – all installed by inmate labor and furnishings for an after school program for a Boys and Girls Club. But again, how did this action benefit the victims of the inmates’ crime? 

Back “in the day” when they were penitentiaries – the opening to the institution the inmate would enter was low, so low they had to crawl in on their knees. It was a symbolic gesture to help the inmate realize the only way to redemption was through acts of penitence. It was also in these penitentiaries that inmates were introduced to education. They were taught to read – to read the Bible. One could say it was a real “Come to Jesus” time in their lives.

Victor Hugo said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”

Society and criminal justice have changed and not necessarily for the better. Private prison corporations are, after all, set up to run at a profit. This begs the question – where is the justice? Why do we allow inmates to be incarcerated for non-violent offences? Why is there such overcrowding? How are other countries coping?

*Take a look here for a look at what's happening in Europe.

*And what happens if you have a jail with no one to put in it? Look what Sweden is doing here

*from Shannon at Finding Grace Within.

Wishing you everyday grace,

P.S.  Matthew 25:35-45 (NIV)
Verse 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 
Verse 45 "He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’


  1. Such powerful food for thought Tamara. The pen is mightier than the sword and you wield it so well.
    thank you dear Tamara for your good wishes for everyday grace.
    Enjoy your week. May it be filled with grace and calm.

  2. Ah Rose... my social justice instinct is sparked! My week, alas, has been transformed into one of sorrow, as a dear, dear friend, The Church Lady has been hit with the hardest of trials. Her 20-month old grandson tragically died by drowning. So my thoughts and prayers are with her and her family at this time. Hugz & every day grace to you and yours, dear Rose.

    1. Oh Tamara, what tragedy and sorrow! Little wonder that through the obstacles life can throw at us, our faith can be sorely tested. I so hope that the prayers of those around this family get them through. I am so terribly sorry to hear of this but have added my prayers as well.
      Hugs back Tamara.

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