READ: How to Fix Our Prisons? Let the Public Inside

By Shani Saxon Dec 18, 2019

In an opinion piece published in The New York Times on Tuesday (December 17), Neil Barsky, founder of online journalism and criminal justice organization The Marshall Project, calls for a “broad national effort” to encourage volunteers to teach skills to the incarcerated and “see firsthand the conditions within the walls.”

The ultimate goal of Barsky’s proposal, which he calls Let Us In, is to reform mass incarceration though shared access and information. He explains:

The public should see firsthand the conditions within the walls, meet the men and women who reside in our prisons, look them in the eye, shake their hands and teach them skills they can use once they are released. After all, 90 percent of them will end up back among us.

Recent college graduates should receive stipends to teach prisoners languishing with few opportunities for instruction in math or history. Retired schoolteachers could teach literature or science classes. Local college students could receive credit for prison work. And people released from prison should be invited back to tell the men and women they left behind about life on the outside.

Yes, some prisons already have programs that allow outsiders inside the walls for teaching and counseling. But there aren’t enough of them. What I’m talking about is a thorough effort to bring down the wall separating the incarcerated and the free. Let Us In could change the relationship between the public and the imprisoned. Like President John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps, it could inspire a generation of Americans to engage in the betterment of our fragile world.

Barsky goes on to assert that it’s crucial for the Trump administration to “change the criminal justice narrative” and recognize the “human dignity” of people experiencing incarceration. It’s important, though, that this plan not turn into “tourism within walls.” Instead, he says, volunteers should be trained to work in a prison, with a focus on safety.

If executed properly, Barksky says Let Us In would crucially “provide tools for the incarcerated to lead healthy, productive lives once they leave prison.” He explains that an added benefit would be the possible creation of a “generation of prison reform proponents—volunteers who will take their experiences back to their communities, who will vote and who will one day employ the formerly incarcerated when they rejoin their communities.”

Read the entire article here.