It is the type of news story that when read or relayed to another can only elicit a sighing shake of the head, or maybe an expletive mumbled softly. The story was the gang rape of an 11-year-old Milwaukee girl, who, unknown to her attackers, was born HIV-positive. The oldest perpetrator in connection with the crime is 40-year-old Freeman Gurley, charged with a felony count of first-degree sexual assault of a minor. Gurley, who admitted to not using a condom during his crime, described the violation of this young girl to include no less than 14 men having their way with the child over the course of around an hour. The only solace to be taken away from this heinous crime is that Freeman Gurley, as well as the untold number of others that raped this HIV-infected child, sans condom, will surely pay for their crimes. Regardless of the judge's sentencing, nature has already placed these men on a biological death row, which if you ask me, is a great thing. Not just because Gurley is guaranteed a slow death, but because he is one less man that our country needs to keep jammed in our highly dysfunctional prison system. As of 2001, America had a larger percentage of its population behind bars than any nation in the world. There are currently 6.6 million people immersed in the corrections system. That means approximately 1/32 adults are either incarcerated, on parole or on probation. During a study conducted in June 2006 by the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, it was found that 67 percent of convicts whom the state deems rehabilitated are eventually rearrested, and 52 percent are reincarcerated within three years of their release. Recidivism rates alone expose the serious shortcomings of America's correctional system, a vacuum that sucks up $60 billion a year in taxpayer dollars. The United States has 5,000 prisons and jails. The majority of which are deeply impregnated with drugs, gang violence and overcrowding. Putting a criminal through an American correctional facility and expecting him to emerge rehabilitated is tantamount to putting a gambling addict on the strip in Vegas and telling him to quit gambling. Naturally, questions are raised about what can be done to fix our failing prison system. There are violent offenders, people such as Freeman Gurley, who are surely threats to our society. Personally, I would suggest doing away with all such scum, using nothing but a needle and a potent pharmaceutical cocktail. After all, the only difference between killing a violent offender and handing down consecutive life sentences is hundreds of thousands of dollars. Keeping one person locked in a Wisconsin state prison for a year costs $28,000. That's more than a year of out-of-state tuition. Although keeping criminals behind bars weighs heavily on taxpayers, it is deemed necessary for public safety. Yet what about all the lesser evils we keep locked away at just as high a price? If nothing else, it is simply not cost-effective to lock up nonviolent offenders, such as drug addicts and petty offenders. Our neighbors in Minnesota are getting the picture, as they have instituted a concept known as "restorative justice." This strategy stresses community service-based rehabilitation in which nonviolent offenders learn to be held accountable for their actions, as well as being aided in overcoming their crime provoking addictions. Minnesotans, much to their delight, have found that restorative justice has largely increased effectiveness of sentencing at a fraction of the cost, without any sacrifice to public safety. Obviously not all offenders are of the nonviolent persuasion. Of those currently incarcerated, about 95 percent are scheduled to return to society in the future. As recidivism rates prove, despite lengthy jail sentences, the majority of prisoners returning to society are no better off than when they were first convicted. Yet there may be light at the end of this tunnel. Incentive programs such as the Bard Prison Initiative, a program that is giving inmates higher education and career skills in New York prisons, have seen their program lower reincarceration rates from 60 percent to less than 15 percent. This comes as no surprise, because a well-educated prisoner will be more ready to fill a productive niche in today's competitive society, as opposed to the ill-adjusted prisoner with no such skills. We have a commitment to public safety that demands we reprimand wrongdoers. The current system is failing. By offering nonviolent offenders another chance at life through restorative justice, and by giving those less fortunate the same chance through education and job training, we have a possibility of reversing this trend and removing the rot that eats at the very foundation of our society. Max Schlusselberg (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sophomore majoring in journalism.
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