Discussion targets mass incarceration

By Tyler Southworth

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The American prison system and the issues surrounding it were subject to discussion in the basement of William T. Young Library Wednesday afternoon for the “Barred for Life” conversation on mass incarceration.

The event focused on problems surrounding inmates when they’re released, and efforts from organizations like Mission Behind Bars And Beyond that try to alleviate these problems.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, over 2 million adults are incarcerated in federal or state prisons and county jails.

The entire population of adults involved in some phase of the correctional process — prison, jail, probation or parole — is an estimated 6.9 million, a population larger than any major U.S. city other than New York City, according to a report from CNN.

And the prison system affects certain races more than others. According to CNN, nearly 1 in 3 black males are likely to spend time in prison at some point in his life, compared to 1 in 6 for Hispanics and 1 in 25 for whites.

One of the issues associated with mass incarceration is that if convicted of a felony, when released from prison, former inmates are lost in the community with no programs to help them feel like a part of that community.

Another issue with American prisons is high rates of recidivism, as an analysis of Bureau of Justice data from 30 states from 2005 to 2010 showed that 3 out of 4 prisoners returned to prison five years after their release.

Mission Behind Bars And Beyond offers training programs that help former prisoners adjust to life after prison.

“I have done over 17 years combined in prison, and this group has taught me mystery skills I never knew I had in my life, and that was how to be a functional member of society,” said Ryan Rivard, guest speaker and former inmate.

The organization offers life courses taught by volunteer workers. They include money management skills, methods to handle stress, and how to make peace with oneself and others according to the program’s website.

“The model we have adopted and formulated works very well and we have grown large enough here in Lexington to have more than one group and reach out to more individuals,” said Mark Johnson, board chairman of Mission Behind Bars And Beyond.