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Speakers assess impact of mass incarceration

Haleigh Ehmsen | Thursday, December 5, 2013

Saint Mary’s hosted the Symposium on Women’s Incarceration on Tuesday to discuss how the current increase in female prisoners affects American society, according to Dr. Adrienne Lyles-Chockley, a lawyer and coordinator of the Justice Education program at Saint Mary’s.

“Saint Mary’s College is founded on four core values: learning, community, faith and spirituality, and justice. This event is designed to affirm each of these,” she said. “The symposium [provides] a context for talking about women’s incarceration, for examining the intersection of issues including gender, race and poverty that underlie the crisis of incarceration, and for developing solutions to the crisis grounded in justice, equality, dignity and solidarity.”

Fr. David Link, a current chaplain in Northern Indiana prisons, said mass incarceration in the United States especially affects women.

“The overall rate of incarceration is going down slightly, while the rate of female incarceration is rising at an alarming rate,” Link said. “For several decades America has been waging a so-called war on crime. Nonetheless, many aspects of the crime cycle have been in fast-forward since the 1980’s, despite this so-called war on crime.”

Link said describing the issues within the criminal justice system and incarceration in military terms is a part of the problem.

“Strategies for winning are parallel to desperate tactics that we have used in military campaign,” Link said. “Panicking, we have tried tactical maneuvers, such as ‘lock-em-up and throw away the key,’ longer sentences, adding crimes to the list of felonies.
“Significantly these ineffective strategies have violated many constitutional rights. These tactics have wasted countless lives and cited exaggerated, negative public opinion about the prisoners of this curious war.”

It is important to recognize the people in jails and prisons suffer from a social sickness, he said.

“They’re not bad people,” Link said. “They’re good people who have made some disastrous mistakes in their lives. They have deviated from society for a wide range of reasons.

“We need to think about prison as an intensive care unit in a hospital because a lot of people need that level of care.”

Link’s Crime Peace Plan would oblige all lawyers to contribute to criminal defense either in defending criminals or paying into a fund that would support criminal defense as money is often large factor in incarceration, he said.

“Justice is not always the child of truth, but of economics,” he said.

Link said he was ordained as a priest at the age of 71 after the passing of his wife.

Before his ordination, he was Dean Emeritus at Notre Dame Law School.

“Even if I were not a priest … and was still practicing law, I would be promoting that Americans change their criminal justice system so that we can return to the origins of our legal professions,” Link said. “Our profession was never to be a profession of punishment, ours was to heal and make amends.”

Pat Hosea, a former prisoner, used her incarceration experience to talk about the issues female ex-offenders face upon their release from prison.

Hosea said she came from an abusive family.

“I looked for a form of escapism,” Hosea said. “When I became a young adult, I turned to alcohol and drugs.”

Despite Hosea’s family situation and alcohol and drug abuse, God was always an important part of her life, she said.

“Through my life’s journey I would always call on God for help,” she said.

Hosea said she serves as a female ex-offender mentor through her church in the South Bend community.

“What I would like to do is make it better for each and every female who is in any correctional facility, simply because it’s not a good place to be,” Hosea said.

“Respect is not a part of the penitentiary.”

Patricia Marvel, assistant director, counselor and volunteer coordinator of St. Margaret’s House, said women face particular gender issues within the criminal justice system.

“Historically, women have been underrepresented at all levels of the criminal justice system,” Marvel said. “Until recently, research has focused on crime perpetrated by males with male offenders viewed as the norm.

“Thus, correctional programming for women was based on the profiles of males’ criminality and their paths to crime. Therefore the programs, the services, etc., failed to look at the options that would be gender responsive to the needs of women.”

Women often are drawn into crime to support their families, Marvel said.

“Among women, the most common path to crime is based on survival ­­- survival of abuse, survival of poverty and survival of substance abuse,” she said.

Many gender issues continue to affect incarcerated females’ prospects for reintegration when they are released from prison, Marvel said.

“So we have housing, employment, health, transportation and family,” she said. “These are the factors that determine whether a person will succeed or fail as a law-abiding citizen. For some of our women, they decide that it may be easier to go back to prison.”

Contact Haleigh Ehmsen at [email protected]