By Father Kent Bowlds
CLEVELAND – Having a relative who is in prison has made me very aware of the impact of incarceration upon whole families and things are not getting any easier. A growing trend, for example, is the replacement of families’ free onsite inmate visitation with video technology – where loved ones and their incarcerated members have to visit remotely through a television screen – at financial cost to the families and at the expense of a truly personal experience. Because the poor are especially affected by incarcerations, a situation like this has a very detrimental effect upon them and, in the end, upon all of us. As a society we say that prisons should not have revolving doors, that the return rate is much too high, but then we allow policies, such as exorbitant jail telephone rates, which foster repeat offenders by damaging the connections between families and their incarcerated loved ones. We don’t follow what the best research says will work toward reducing crime in the long run.
If prison reform is a concern close to your heart also, know that there is a way to advocate here in Mississippi on behalf of the affected families, the prisoners themselves, and anyone who is interested in our prisons being more than very expensive warehouses to which the inmates are likely to return. CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants) is a nonprofit national grassroots organization with chapters many states. It speaks to issues on a national level, but even more importantly to local and state matters. The Mississippi chapter of CURE has not been active for several years and needs to be rebuilt and reenergized. It is not a religiously affiliated organization, but certainly has at heart the words which Jesus Christ will say to us someday – “When I was in prison, you visited me.”
A practical example of recent CURE effort is their advocacy for the national reinstatement of college Pell grants for prisoners. These particular grants were eliminated in 1994 and have since been offered again only on a very limited experimental basis by the U.S. Dept. of Education. Expanding this opportunity, such as through the newly proposed bipartisan REAL Act, would allow inmates to continue college studies behind bars and give them a better chance for life changing employment after release. This would help former offenders become contributing tax-paying citizens, a benefit for all of us.
A Mississippi CURE chapter, made up of constituents from all over the state, would let our state and U.S. legislators know in an official way what they think about such legislation. Their united voice would carry unique weight because of their personal experience and a strong desire for effective reform.
You can learn more at the website for CURE (www.curenational.org), which says:
“CURE consists of people who are passionate about seeking improvements in the criminal justice system. CURE’s members [include] prisoners, ex-prisoners, and family members and friends of prisoners. The vast majority of CURE’s funding comes from membership dues and contributions of members. Because our members often come from the ranks of the lower economic strata, annual dues are relatively inexpensive and may be waived for the indigent. The budgets for CURE Chapters are typically very small. The work is done by volunteers, with little or no paid staff.”
(If you would like to be involved in reestablishing Mississippi CURE, contact Father Kent Bowlds at Our Lady of Victories Cleveland, (662) 588-5868 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Father Kent Bowlds