Confront the ugliness of incarceration

Rarely a day goes by that there isn’t some kind of article or news story on criminal justice reform. If you haven’t been paying attention to this very important subject, you need to.

As a 57-year-old Georgia resident, I can assure you this topic is something that affects every one of us who live and pay taxes in this country. It is our moral obligation to fully understand the impact our ignorance is having on all of us.

With the transparency social media creates, we can’t hide the ugly truth about mass incarceration anymore. My face is the “‘new face” of incarceration. My life is spent working tirelessly to bring light to the subjects many families of the incarcerated are afraid to discuss. I spend almost every weekend behind razor wire visiting my 24-year-old-son, who has been locked up for almost three years. I know the truth that you can never understand unless you live it.

What I have learned during this difficult journey for my family is that it is impossible to expect anything but failure when an inmate is released from prison. It’s not only the way they are treated or the lack of programs inside, but that our correctional officers are underpaid and have no real way of making any impact on the incarcerated. They are considered by many unworthy of a job as a gym teacher, yet they work inside prisons for 12-hour shifts – basically locked up like those they guard.

Who would want that job for the petty $24,000-a-year starting salary?

My son’s story is a classic example of our failures, and his story is just one of thousands we warehouse in prisons. Few have the help they need to not go back.

Consider how my son lives every day. Housed with more than 80 guys in an open dorm. Artificial lightening, noise 24/7 so loud it is deafening, no programs because he has too much time to serve, food barely fit for human consumption, limited and very insufficient dental and health care, constant fear, no treatment or rehabilitation, no educational opportunity, very little outdoor time, no access to current news or books, no understanding of the new world of technology, and never told he is a good kid. Multiply this by the thousands that will return to their communities, and you should get my point.

I speak openly about the fact the Georgia Department of Corrections has my son. It’s not their fault, but it’s their problem. They didn’t arrest him, indict him or convict him. They just got him, and with no money or resources, this is a recipe for disaster, as has been proven for years.

With Governor Deal’s focus on criminal justice reform, we have an opportunity to make Georgia a leader in reform instead of recidivism. We need to have open, honest communication to bring about necessary changes.

Make no mistake: I am quite clear on those we are afraid who need incarceration. But to keep our communities safe, every one of our returning citizens needs to come home as a productive citizen with more than the shirt on his back and the $25 the state gives him.

I challenge all elected officials to learn the truth about mass incarceration and to support any legislation that will put an end to the destruction of our communities. This election year is a good time to step forward and say you will support the 55,000-plus families of the incarcerated so that we can return the favor and vote for you.

Kate Boccia is board chairman for The Hub Family Resource Center in Johns Creek.

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