Punishment or rehabilitation? Why America locks people up. (audio)

What is the goal of incarceration? And how do we keep human dignity at the center of our search for solutions?

Rich Pedroncelli/AP/File
A low-risk inmate waits for treatment at a new mental health treatment unit at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Feb. 14, 2013. In Episode 5 of "Perception Gaps: Locked Up," our reporters discuss the purpose of incarceration.

The Purpose of Prison

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Polls from the past few years have found that a majority of Americans – as much as 85% – say the focus of prison should be rehabilitation. But data also shows that there are still a lot of people who support punitive responses to crime. How can we reconcile these two, often competing, objectives? Is it possible to do both at the same time? 

In this episode, our reporters explore the different purposes of incarceration, where the system succeeds and fails, and the gap between what we say we want prison to do and what it actually does. 

Note: This is Episode 5 of Season 2. To listen to the other episodes and sign up for the newsletter, please visit the “Perception Gaps: Locked Up” main page

This audio story was designed to be heard. We strongly encourage you to experience it with your ears, but we understand that is not an option for everybody. You can find the audio player above. For those who are unable to listen, we have provided a transcript of the story below.

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

Disclaimer: Just a warning. This episode contains descriptions of violence, including gun violence, murder, and suicide. Please be advised.

Jeremiah Bourgeois: My life was cut short pretty early because I ended up being sentenced to a life without parole sentence when I was 14. I was living on the streets with my brother at the time. And he had committed an assault against a local business owner. He was convicted of that crime, and in a rage, I walked down to the convenience store where the victim and the co-owners worked. And I opened fire. 

Samantha Laine Perafs: When a person is convicted of a crime in the United States – especially a violent crime – they’re usually sentenced to time behind bars. But what is the purpose of locking people up? 

A majority of Americans say prison should help rehabilitate offenders. But a majority of Americans also say punishment is a key part of our criminal justice system. Is it even possible to do both at the same time? 

That’s a perception gap. 

[Theme music]

I’m Samantha Laine Perfas and this is “Perception Gaps: Locked Up” by The Christian Science Monitor.

[Theme music]

Welcome back to our second season, which is all about the U.S. criminal justice system. If you’re just joining us now, be sure to go back and check out Episodes 1 through 4. We look into the history of incarceration in America, what role race plays in the conversation, and why private prisons get such a bad rap. You can find everything at csmonitor.com/perceptiongaps

Today we’re asking: What are prisons for? 

Polls from the past few years have found that a majority of Americans – as much as 85% – say the focus of prison should be rehabilitation. There’s been growing support for prison and sentencing reform, and the idea that we need to reduce the number of people inside our prisons and jails.  

But at the same time, Americans have increasingly supported more punitive responses. One 2016 Gallup poll found that a combined 80% of respondents thought that the way the US handles crime is either “about right” or “not tough enough.” In 2018, the Pew Research Center reported that public support for the death penalty for murder convictions ticked up for the first time in years.

How can Americans simultaneously think that we need to focus on rehabilitating offenders, and also that we’re not punishing them enough? 

To find out, we turned to Jeremiah Bourgeois, the man you heard at the start of the episode. He was sentenced, as he said, to mandatory life without parole for a crime he committed when he was just 14 years old. That was in Seattle, back in 1992. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled on a case that changed Jeremiah’s life.

Jeremiah: The court declared that it was cruel and unusual punishment to give a minor an automatic life without parole sentence for homicide. And so that resulted in legislative changes that gave me an opportunity to be freed after serving 25 years. 

Sam: Jeremiah was released in October 2019. By then, he was 42. Throughout this episode, we’ll hear from him about what it was like to have been locked up so young and for so long. His story will help us understand why it’s so difficult to bridge the gap between what we say we want incarceration to do – and what it actually does.

[Music transition]

First, let’s talk about the official reasons that prisons exist. Why do we lock people up?

Nazgol Ghandnoosh: The purpose of sending someone to prison is to achieve one of four different goals. 

Sam:  This is Nazgol Ghandnoosh. She’s a senior research analyst at The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group whose goal is to build a more fair and effective criminal justice system. Nazgol laid out for us the textbook definition of the purposes of prison. 

Nazgol: One of them is rehabilitation. The second one is incapacitation, and so that means putting someone in a cage so that they can’t harm other people. The third one is retribution, which is closely related to vengeance. And the fourth is deterrence, so not just deterring the person that’s incarcerated from committing another crime but deterring others as well. 

Sam:  Again, that’s: rehabilitation. Incapacitation. Retribution. And deterrence. 

Sam: It’s really interesting to think about the four purposes of incarceration. Some of them seem to work together, but some of them seem contradictory in some ways. Do you think that as a country, the United States has given more weight to one of those four things throughout history?  

Nazgol: You’re definitely right that some of those goals of incarceration seem to be at odds with each other. In particular, the goal of rehabilitation seems to be at odds with putting someone behind bars, disconnecting them from their family members, and all the other hardships that imprisonment poses for people. 

So rehabilitation has always been a relatively modest goal of the prison system. I think the punitive component of incarceration, the goal is to separate somebody that poses a serious harm. And that person is contained and removed, but the goal of restoring and repairing the harm that people have experienced is not met. The model is, ‘Well, we’ll throw the person in prison for a long time. And that’s about all we can offer you.’

[Music transition]

Sam: Jeremiah Bourgeois is a living example of how the prison system tends to achieve only its punitive goals. Remember: his brother was already locked up when Jeremiah attacked the convenience store. So the threat of prison didn’t deter 14-year-old Jeremiah from committing a crime.  

And as we’ll hear, once inside, he didn’t feel rehabilitation was in the cards for him, either – at least, not for a really long time. So what’s left are incapacitation – basically, getting locked up – and retribution. 

Jeremiah: The notion of retribution, ‘We want you to pay for what you did.’ I can assure you I was paying every day when I was in there. It is a terrible place. Whether one has completely got what society thinks they should have coming for violating the law or hurting someone, I mean it’s entirely subjective. But that system is absolutely retributive. And whatever rehabilitation or reform you get in there, you want it for yourself. 

Sam: While Jeremiah was growing up in prison, things like self-improvement, or making better decisions, or learning from his crime – those were the last things on his mind. 

Jeremiah: So much during those early years of confinement is so directly tied into trying to ensure that you’re not victimized, that I really didn’t have the space or even the maturity to reflect on my circumstances. There’s no time to think of what became of your life or the loss to the victims. My days were focused on: I don’t want to be raped. I don’t want to have my property taken from me. I don’t want to be extorted. 

Sam: And that constant threat of physical violence was just one part of the struggle. 

Jeremiah: Prison is defined by monotony. Every day, it is the same thing. I mean, there were times when I did things violently, and not only was it in response to a provocation, but it was also just a matter of, ‘You know what? I’m bored. Nothing moves me anymore.’ It’s really a psychological battle getting through that monotony and staying sane. 

Sam: Jeremiah’s experience is common, almost standard, in the prison setting. Here’s Nazgol Ghandnoosh again, from The Sentencing Project.

Nazgol: When you talk to people that have been incarcerated, a lot of time they will describe a lot of boredom, because there’s just such a limitation of access to programming and to employment. So that people would like to be doing college classes and vocational training. But, you know, a lot of times they’re on waitlists to try to qualify for those things. They might be excluded as a result of their sentence. 

Sam:  And in the meantime, they’re in an environment that doesn’t exactly keep them away from criminal activity.

Bethany Young: Crime is rampant in prisons. You have the sale of drugs, the use of drugs, physical assault, sexual assault, theft, murder, violent crime. 

Sam: This is Dr. Bethany Young, a researcher at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center.

Bethany: You think about the way that most prisons are set up, the structure of a prison. So you have all of these people coming, many from the same communities, same neighborhoods that are plagued by the same issues. You can remove someone from a situation but not remove any of the things that led to creating that situation. And so you’re not going to get a different outcome. 

Sam: The result is a cycle that falls far short of meaningful deterrence or rehabilitation, and again focuses on the retribution and incapacitation aspects of prison. In 2016, the Brookings Institution and The Hamilton Project reported that 77% of released prisoners are rearrested within five years. And the more prior arrests a person has, the more likely he or she is to be arrested again. There are a lot of reasons why that happens, but according to Nazgol: 

Nazgol: The traumatic experiences they had while incarcerated sends them back out into their home communities more likely to commit crime, because so many doors are now newly closed to them. Getting a job. Finding housing. Getting access to cash assistance or food stamps. Getting access to a college loan. All of those things may have been very difficult for them before, but they’re going to be even more difficult once they have a criminal record. And so that puts people in a very bad place.

Sam: Back in Episode 1, we talked about incarceration’s ripple effect: how locking people up affects not just the person serving the sentence, but also their families and communities.   

What Nazgol is saying now is that those consequences go on long after a person has been released. According to a 2017 estimate, there are about 5 million formerly incarcerated people in the U.S., not including those who are on parole. Among them, the unemployment rate was 27% – higher than the national unemployment rate for any historical period, including the worst years of the Great Depression. 

[Pause]

Sam: Now Jeremiah Bourgeois, our formerly incarcerated guest, may seem like an exception to the rule. Despite the violent nature of the crime that he was sentenced for, he’s fully employed today, as an independent writer and consultant on life inside prisons.

But actually, Nazgol says that his trajectory is not unusual for people who serve very long sentences.

Nazgol: People mature over time, despite the limitations of the prison setting. They find ways to educate themselves. They find a community that’s supportive of their rehabilitation. And a lot of times they end up becoming mentors for younger people in prison. And so you hear this especially even from prison wardens, they think of lifers as the stabilizing force within the prison setting. 

Sam: When we lock people up, we enter into a kind of social contract with them: they serve their time, turn their lives around, and prove that they’re no longer a danger to society. Once that happens, they’re supposed to be released. But what often happens to people like Jeremiah is they’re kept behind bars indefinitely. 

Nazgol: So these people serving these very long sentences for these very serious crimes are this positive force in a prison setting. But yet they’re not released. Even though, in instances when we do see them getting released, they have some of the lowest recidivism rates. 

Sam: Recidivism, by the way, is the act of reoffending after being released from prison.

Nazgol: And so there we see a real – a real break in the promise of our criminal justice system.

[Music transition]

Sam: Jeremiah’s story – which we’ll get back to in a bit – shows us the way that prisons fail the people inside them. But remember, many Americans also say they want to see punishment and retribution for the actions that led to those individuals being locked up in the first place.

So now we’re going to look at this situation from a different perspective: that of the victim. What do victims and their loved ones want out of the system? And what changes would they like to see?

Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins: If you haven’t experienced your husband or your wife or your son or your daughter or your brother or your sister, if you haven't experienced a murder of that intimacy, that extreme proportion of violence, I can’t put words to it.

My name is Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, and I live in Northfield, Illinois. And 30 years ago, on April 7th, 1990, my youngest sister, Nancy Bishop Langert and her husband Richard and their unborn child – they were pregnant with their first baby – were murdered by a 16-year-old, almost 17, for a thrill kill. 

Sam: Jennifer is a member of NOVJM, the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers. The group provides support for those whose loved ones have been murdered by young people. They give each other room to air their pain and grievances with others who understand.

Jennifer: None of us question the fact that there's criminal justice reform needed in the United States, on a whole host of issues. And many of us, myself included, strongly support criminal justice reform. But what we want to make sure is that the victims’ voices are heard, that the victims are kept informed. If you’re talking about homicide victim family members, you’re talking about people who have had literally the most devastating thing happen to them that – that can ever happen to anybody. 

Sam: NOVJM also advocates for the rights of crime victims and their loved ones. Because, Jennifer says, when crimes are committed, those who've actually experienced harm are regularly left out of the conversation. In many cases, they’re not even told about significant changes to the system that will affect them.

Jennifer: ... And we stay in touch with each other and we try to do what we can to ask that no matter what else people may be advocating for in terms of changes in laws, that the victims’ families are kept informed, that they’re heard from, that they’re valued, given resources to deal with changes. 

You know, in some cases, we have victims’ families where they are 20, 30 years out from a murder case and they walked away with maybe a life without parole sentence for a 17-year-old who killed a loved one. And they said, ‘Phew, thank God that’s over.’ And they, you know, walked away. To then have them come back after the Miller v. Alabama case, the Supreme Court overturning mandatory life sentences for juveniles and then later making that retroactive – to get the news that, you know, that thing that you walked away from? Well you're going to have to deal with it again. 

And so I guess I’m sort of living example. You know, I’m 30 years out from my sister’s murder and I still am facing, in this next year or two, a whole series of re-sentencing procedures with the offender in my case. Thirty years later. And it never, ever ends for us.

[Transition music]

Sam: The justice system doesn’t only fail to meet its supposed goals; it also often leads to deep trauma for everyone involved. 

Jennifer: People are permanently changed. I literally couldn’t sleep for years. I was so scared. And once the movement began to release the offender, a good 16 years after the murders, I literally went back into a re-traumatization that – I couldn’t function. I was unable to concentrate at work. I had to start seeing a psychiatrist again.

I met and married my husband because his son was murdered. He and I met at a murder victims’ conference. I mean, my whole life has been shaped by this. And people who begin to see this every day on the news, they just figure, ‘Oh, well, you know, so sad for these people. But they’ll get over it.’ But you don’t. Your life is forever changed. 

Sam: The justice system is supposed to address crime, but in many ways it fails to support the victims of those crimes. On top of that, it creates trauma for those behind bars, leading to violence and pain begetting violence and pain. 

For a moment, let’s turn back to Jeremiah Bourgeois, and how his life was shaped by this experience.

Jeremiah: I was serving two years in solitary confinement, and there was a guy next door to my cell named Baca. And he had been given about a 60- or 70-year sentence when he was 16 years old. And he was incarcerated in 1989 and by this point it was 2001. And he’d lost all of his family members, whether due to death or they just stopped communicating with him. I don’t know, I think it was a combination of both. 

But when the final person in his life, his sister, stopped writing him and he realized she didn’t even leave a forwarding address, he killed himself. And to wake up and have officers banging on his door because he's not moving – that, juxtaposed to just saying good night to him the night before and having him encourage me, it – I realized my life was going to take one of two courses, and that was a potential ending. And that’s not what I wanted. 

I knew I had to find something to live for. And I decided to live to be somebody who can try to find some relief for somebody like that, and myself, and try to get us some hope. And I did that by focusing on learning everything I could about the law and the policies and practices that affected prisoner’s lives. 

[Transition music]

Sam: We’ve talked about those who have committed crimes, and the victims of those crimes. But there’s another stakeholder in the conversation about what prison is supposed to achieve.

Andy Potter: Corrections officers get left out because a lot of reformers don’t think they want to be a part of it, don’t think they’re interested. 

Sam: This is Andy Potter, executive director of the corrections and forensics officers union in Michigan. He’s also the founder of One Voice, a national organization that brings the perspective of corrections officers into prison reform efforts. Andy was a corrections officer for 30 years. He says that if the system were truly designed to rehabilitate and reform, then corrections officers would be in a position to do that.

Andy: But the overall work and what I experienced and what many experience isn’t like that. A lot of things that you experience bring a lot of post-traumatic stress and a lot of pressures. 

From Day One, the way you’re trained is really about desensitizing yourself. No officer likes to perform things like strip searches, for instance. That’s uncomfortable for everybody. But you get desensitized to it after a while. And you lose track of, you’re strip searching another person, to where it’s just part of your job. When you see somebody that’s cutting themselves, it doesn’t really faze you too much, at some point. You just know you have to try to stop it and you have to get back up to do that. 

Sam: Andy also says that the prisons where he worked didn’t look like what we see in movies or on TV. 

Andy: This is like a little city in there. It isn’t just a bunch of folks behind bars locked up and we walk through and bang the bar with a stick. And a lot of times the units are open and there’s 240 inmates walking around and milling around in close proximity. It’s not always hostile, although you feel you’re always on a heightened sense of alert, always, even when you leave. 

One of the things that working in corrections does for corrections officers is it gives them a brotherhood, a way to connect with other folks, to feel like they’re in something greater than themselves. 

Sam: But at the end of the day, according to Andy, prison winds up failing the people it employs almost as badly as it does the people it confines. 

Andy: I can tell you there’s a lot of pain on both sides of this. I’ve seen it for 30 years.

The system is set up that it doesn’t allow you much interaction on a one-on-one basis or in a way that you can be instrumental in change, because that’s over familiarization and you can be punished for it. Fired for it. You’re looked at funny by your fellow officers. 

It robs – the thing I would say it robs you the most of is your vulnerability, which is a precious thing. You can’t even experience love unless you allow yourself to be vulnerable. And when that’s hardened, and your heart is hardened, it’s very difficult. 

There are those opportunities, and I know many corrections officers that have made differences in many people's lives. But it's not – it’s not looked at as really a part of your job. It’s mostly custody-oriented. Security-oriented. And that – that can create a wedge that I believe this system was meant to have in there, and it was built like that. And that’s how it operates today. 

Sam: Throughout his time in prison, Jeremiah Bourgeois’s relationship with his corrections officers was civil, at best. But over the years, Jeremiah says he began to empathize with them. He says they’re also casualties of the system. 

Jeremiah: They’re told when they go to work in those places, that they’re protecting the public, that they’re doing such valuable work. But there’s such a disconnect between the rhetoric in order to try to boost their morale with what they're seeing every eight hours they go on shift. 

And being miserable eight hours a day just means you were miserable only one-third of the time I was. But it’s still a miserable existence. And I don’t recall running across very many correctional officers who would – who would say to you, ‘I love what I’m doing’ in private. 

Sam: In a lot of ways prisons, and incarceration in general, just don’t live up to their stated purposes.

But there’s a long-standing argument that prison isn’t supposed to be comfortable. Although Americans’ views around crime and punishment have softened over the past couple decades, there are still a lot of people who think that the justice system isn’t harsh enough.

After all, we’re not trying to reward people for breaking the law or harming others. And there are plenty of law-abiding Americans who can’t find work, who need social services, who are struggling with mental health issues – who, basically, face many of the challenges that exist inside prisons. Shouldn’t we focus on them? 

I asked Bethany Young about this. She’s the policy associate from the Urban Institute that we talked to earlier in the episode. 

Bethany: There is this perception that people in prison deserve to be there, that whatever kind of additional consequences that come out of that experience are part and parcel of an individual decision to do wrong, that they do not deserve to be – to be helped or to receive additional social services. And I think that that does ignore many of the realities around what the state of life is like in a lot of American prisons. 

By design, you know, we know very little about what happens inside of prisons. So the perceptions about what’s going on often are not based on any data or evidence we have by having gone into the prison. 

And that becomes a place of hopelessness, of an understanding that your existence has been deemed to be bad for society. That has to affect someone, right? The knowledge that my state or my country or the people in my community don’t think I’m worth or capable of redemption. 

[Music transition]

Sam: The majority of Americans support criminal justice reform that reflects a more rehabilitative approach. And yet our system is still very punitive in nature. 

I’m wondering, why is reform so challenging? 

Nazgol: A lot of Americans support reforms, especially for drug offenses. And so that’s where you see the most progress

Sam: That’s Nazgol Ghandnoosh again. She pointed out that more than half the population in state prisons are in there for violent offenses: robbery, assault, or – like Jeremiah was – murder. And there’s a lot less interest among policymakers and the public to try and reduce sentences for those kinds of crimes.

Nazgol: So that’s really the area that we would need to see more progress on in order to end mass incarceration. And instead of incarcerating people for a very long time, even for very serious crimes, to undo that pattern so that more resources can be freed up into more effective investments in their communities.

Sam: Do you feel like the public almost has too much fear of what will happen if we change and if we don’t lock up as many people, that things will just get worse or people won’t be safe? 

Nazgol: Oh, yeah, definitely. Ever since the 1990s, when crime rates have been falling dramatically, there has not been a single year when the majority of Americans have said the crime rate has fallen. Every single year, people have thought the crime rate is increasing. And I think that the source of that really comes from news coverage, you know, that leads with bloody crime stories that doesn’t contextualize those stories. It gives people the impression that they’re at much more risk than they actually are.

I do think that there are certain situations where some people pose too much of a public safety risk to just treat within the community. They’re too likely to re-offend.

And so in those relatively, I think, narrow cases, it makes sense to put someone behind bars. But we do need to move more towards a system that we see in other countries, where prison is not about humiliating somebody. It’s not about taking away things, just kind of disentangling them fully from some of the positive forces in their lives. And instead, it’s about really giving them access to the services that they might need to be able to get their lives back together.

[Music transition]

Sam: To Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, the woman whose sister and brother-in-law were murdered in 1990, that nuance is incredibly important in justice reform efforts. The case that she mentioned earlier – Miller v. Alabama – is the same Supreme Court ruling that led to Jeremiah Bourgeois getting released from prison. Jennifer doesn’t disagree with the spirit of the decision – the idea that juveniles should be treated differently than adults. But meaningful justice reform, she says, still needs to account for the harm that was caused to others.

Jennifer: Long before I became an advocate for the rights of the victims of juvenile offenders, I was an advocate for the end of the death penalty and for reform of the criminal justice system for juveniles. I don’t support killing. I can’t say that killing is wrong and then support it by the government. 

So I – I hope that you’re not surprised to hear that I strongly support criminal justice reform. Yes, we are a massively over incarcerated country. And one of the first things that I strongly, personally support is no incarceration for nonviolent offenses. I don't know why you need prison for a nonviolent offense. 

But public safety is also really important. Public safety also has to take into account that there’s going to be, thank God, a very small percentage of people who are extremely, extremely dangerous and could possibly remain that way for the rest of their lives. Are there institutions that we can create that are humane and that are not torturous or abusive, but that will also keep the public safe? 

So I don’t think the purpose of the criminal justice system is retribution at all. I believe one of the primary purposes of the criminal justice system is to sort out who is truly dangerous and who is not, who is fixable and who is not, who can be rehabilitated and who cannot.

Sam: Jennifer says she believes her sister’s killer – who was arrested six months after the murders and sentenced to life without parole – is one of those who will likely always be a danger to society. 

Jennifer: He was not poor. He was not a person of color. He was a rich, smart kid who had every advantage, lived in $3 million house, was going to one of the best high schools in the country. And he broke into their house on a Saturday night and lay in wait for them as they returned home from celebrating my dad’s 60th birthday. He took them down to the basement of their townhouse and shot them both point blank with a .357 Magnum.

Sam: At one point, Jennifer says she offered her sister’s killer a chance to sit down with her and talk about the crime.

Jennifer: And that’s one of the ways that I know that he hasn’t changed, because he was like, ‘Eh, nah. Too much work.’

[Transition]

Criminal justice reform, it’s about everybody. Everybody affected by crime, and that includes victims. 

We have to sort the dangerous, protect them in a humane way from being able to hurt anybody else, and then focus our resources on making sure that criminal justice reform is all a part of a larger society in which all are valued. All are protected. All are understood. All are given equal opportunities. 

Sam: Jennifer recognizes that there are plenty of people who do want to change. People like Jeremiah Bourgeois, who – despite the system’s flaws – is finding a path toward redemption. 

Jeremiah: Because I was serving a life without parole sentence, the policies of the Department of Corrections precluded me from taking any educational programs, even if I paid for it. And so I just started going to the law library. I started finding out what type of books somebody would need to read while they were pursuing their undergraduate degree, and just trying to formulate my own system of self-study.

And I had family that was supportive. They helped pay for correspondence courses when I was finally transferred to a facility that allowed me to take distance learning. And it took – I mean, from the point Baca killed himself to the point I finally had accumulated enough credits to get that bachelor’s degree was almost 15 years. 

Sam: In all, Jeremiah spent 27 years behind bars. Since getting out in late 2019, he’s continued that work, trying to improve prison life and prepare the incarcerated for release. And he says he hopes to make the public more aware of why they should care about what goes on behind bars. 

Jeremiah: I’m free, just as most people in prison are going to be free. I interact everyday with people in the community. We’re out here. And whether we are out here working and paying taxes, or selling drugs or carrying guns or robbing, is in large measure due to what happens while we’re in prison. And I think my life is testament to that. 

Sam: Before we close out the episode, we want to go back to Andy Potter, the former corrections officer and union leader from Michigan. He talked to us about what he thinks prisons are really built to do, and how the COVID-19 pandemic especially, is an opportunity to reevaluate those purposes. 

Andy: I think the system in our country was designed exactly the way it’s portrayed. And that’s to punish people from the time they commit the crime to the time they walk out the door and then some. Because people want to see people punished. I’m not judging that because, you know, if I’ve had a loved one that was murdered or something – I mean, I might feel a certain way. But I can certainly judge this system. Because I’ve seen what it can do to anyone that enters into it. Anyone that it touches, whether you work there or you’re locked up there. 

Sam: I did want to ask you some questions about what’s been going on right now with the coronavirus. Are there responses happening at the moment that you think could or should continue even after the pandemic is over?

Andy: That’s a tough question. I will say that I think if we aren’t going to use this moment in time as an opportunity to become much more innovative, and to think through what works and not be afraid to flag what doesn’t, if we’re not taking the opportunity to reimagine all of this, then that’s probably going to be some of the biggest tragedy I’ve seen. 

Sam: In our next and final episode, we’ll dig more into what Andy’s talking about in terms of where we go from here: How do we address the challenges we’ve discussed today and throughout the season? How can we reimagine the justice system in a way that meets the needs of different stakeholders? And can we find solutions to the system’s most pressing problems in a way that puts humanity and dignity at the center?

For now, we’ll leave you with Jeremiah, and what he thinks it’ll take to transform the criminal justice system. 

Jeremiah: A lot of people who care about me would prefer that I just live. ‘You were locked up all that time. Just enjoy life.’ But I can’t forget the fact that there’s men that I really care about, who I spent decades with in prison, who I think deserve an opportunity to be freed. And so I spend almost all of my free time writing to advocate for them. I realize that’s the only way that real change comes, is if you’re willing to put it all on the line to try to change the world in ways you think will make it a lot better. 

[Music transition]

Sam: Thanks for joining us. Like I said before, our next episode will be our last of the season. If you’d like to stay in the loop, sign up for our newsletter at csmonitor.com/perceptiongaps. We’ll include show notes, videos, additional articles, and behind the scenes takes from the series. Again, you can sign up for it at csmonitor.com/perceptiongaps

This episode was hosted by me, Samantha Laine Perfas. It was produced, reported, and written by me, Henry Gass, and Jessica Mendoza, with additional edits by Clay Collins and Mark Sappenfield. Sound design by Morgan Anderson and Noel Flatt.

This podcast was produced by The Christian Science Monitor, copyright 2020.

 [End]

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