Stanley Richards, Senior Vice President of Programs at The Fortune Society

Alternatives-To-Incarceration (ATI) Programs Aim To Reduce Over-Reliance On Prisons/Jails

Friday, May 22, 2015

Using Alternatives-To-Incarceration (ATI) programs serves our collective communities far better than jails and prisons as a crime-fighting, community-healing, and personal-accountability strategy.

In 1964, the nation heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. make his most famous speech, “I Have A Dream.” At that time, we had a much smaller and whiter criminal justice system. Since that speech, we experienced an explosion in the use of jails and prisons as a crime-fighting strategy.

According to the NAACP, from 1980 to 2008 (44 years after the speech), we have seen the criminal justice system grow from 500,000 people to 2.3 million people incarcerated in this nation. Many of those individuals are black, brown, and poor.

Society has wrongly invested billions of dollars annually into ineffective crime-fighting strategies — jails, prisons, and a lifetime of collateral consequences – while increasing employment barriers and reducing access to housing.

Many organizations, like The Fortune Society, are fighting daily to stem the tide of young black and brown men and women entering the jail or prison system and thus to stop the lifetime consequences.  We do this by providing the criminal justice system an “Alternative To Incarceration.”

The program Fortune offers, which seeks to engage participants in the process of building a new life, offers education, employment, mental health counseling, substance abuse services, housing, family services, HIV/health services, and other services needed to break the cycle of crime. The program partners with the prosecuting attorney, judge, and defense attorney to offer an alternative to the very expensive jail and prison option.  The participant must take responsibility for their actions and acknowledge the harm and hurt they caused the victim, their family, and community.

The dream Dr. King envisioned in 1964 is not the reality our black and brown brothers and sisters experience today — jail, prison, and a life of hopelessness.  ATI programs can put this nation on a path to reducing our over-reliance on jails and prisons, and providing a framework to realize the dream of Dr. King -– equality, prosperity, and opportunity for all people.

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