Is Jesus The Answer to Overcrowded Prisons

Is Jesus the answer to overcrowded prisons?

 

This local article, headlined “Jesus and drug court: Packed prisons lead to jail alternatives,” provides a divine response to mass incarceraton  Here are snippets:





One look at the members of Twin Falls’ Because of Jesus Ministries makes its obvious these aren’t your typical post-incarceration counselors. Nearly all of them have been involved at some point in illegal gangs. Most know the inside of our nation’s drug culture. Some have killed people. The support group’s style may be unorthodox. But it may also be part of a larger solution to problems stemming from Idaho’s exploding prison population.

Anthony Lopez, 32, the founder of Because of Jesus, has been in and out of prison since age 8. After his 2006 release, he began his ministry to ex-convicts and prison inmates, reaching out to those who seemed least open to his message. But he knew many yearning to hear it. The group’s mission, Lopez said, is to help any person find his way out of despair, crime and prison into a fruitful, Christ-centered life. In an era when Idaho’s justice system can’t handle more prisoners, the state needs all the help it can get.

Since 2000, the state has seen a nearly 50-percent increase in the number of inmates it houses. With little space in the state prisons, Idaho Department of Corrections routinely farms out prisoners to costly private prisons in other states. What’s less apparent is just how much, if at all, prison overcrowding is affecting Idaho’s legal system.

From prosecutors to judges to probation officers, no one will admit overcrowding impacts conscious decisions on prosecution, sentencing and management of convicts. But Minidoka County Prosecutor Nicole Cannon said Idaho’s prison population has begun to factor into every facet of the legal system. She said prosecutors and judges may not consciously consider prison overcrowding when pushing sentences. But she suspects the state’s lack of space has led to probation for some ill-qualified convicts and reduced charges for others.

In 2001, Idaho initiated its drug courts, widely hailed for reducing recidivism rates among drug-addicted convicts. Drug court is available to offenders who plead guilty to a drug or substance abuse-related charge. To qualify, prosecutors must recommend offenders into the program and judges must uphold that recommendation. If the drug court coordinator and private treatment providers agree an offender’s central problem is addiction to drugs or alcohol, the offender enters a one-year treatment program governed by restrictions that gradually relax as it progresses. At the end of the year, charges that led to drug court are dismissed for offenders who have completed all the program’s requirements.

“In my view, drug court is the single most successful program we have in diverting people away from drugs,” said State Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo. Since drug court’s inception, Roskelley said, 60 percent of its graduates have avoided further drug charges. Roskelley said state legislators have come to understand drug court’s value in keeping drug users off a path to prison. Considering the most serious conviction for nearly one quarter of Idaho’s inmates is drug-related, that’s good news not just for the state’s budget, but for public health and safety as well….

Anthony Lopez describes his friend Jesus Ortega as being so full of anger when the two men met that Ortega told Lopez he slept better knowing he was going to hell. Ortega was one of Lopez’ first Soldiers in Christ – as Because of Jesus members are known – but the road wasn’t easy. At the time, Ortega said, problems in his life stretched beyond anything any normal support group could touch. “For me it took the power of Christ,” he said. “AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) wasn’t going to help.”…

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