We all know that people who commit crime are a great danger to our families, friends, values and society. It helps to know, therefore, that these dangers can be overcome. We do not need to have more victims of crime.
In 1986, a young economics professor in Bangladesh helped lift 42 women out of desperate poverty. The women and the people in their village were dying because of a famine and the economic system could not help them. So the economics professor reached into his own pocket and made them the equivalent of a $27 loan. The women purchased materials, made and sold furniture at a profit. With hard work, ingenuity, and skill the women turned the $27 into a sustainable business for themselves and their families. The women then repaid the loan in full. Today, over 2 million people are lifting themselves out of poverty and paying back their small or micro loans to the Grameen Bank. The professor, Muhammad Yunus, started the Grameen bank after working with the 42 women. Mr. Yunus won the Nobel peace prize in 2006.
What if there were a $27 solution to lifting people out of crime? I believe there is such a $27 solution. After more than 20 years of experience and research in corrections, I know that prisons and good correctional officers and staff can stop some people from committing crime for a time. Prisons, however, do not stop everyone and they are currently not very effective at lifting people out of crime on a permanent basis. Prisons also come at an enormous and unsustainable cost to society – over $60 billion each year for the US correctional system – that takes much needed money away from investment in children, families, education, roads, parks and businesses.
We need new $27 solutions. Such solutions are available now, they are evidence-based and they build on what is already good about our correctional system. These $27 solutions, however, also transform corrections and make it much less expensive and much more effective, humane and just. In the weeks and months to come I will lay out these $27 approaches. I will show the many ways in which we can and are transforming our correctional system. Please join with me as I make this journey.
Tom O’Connor, Ph.D., October, 2010