Letter to the Editor: Poor are unfairly caught in prison cycle

I am an advocate for the poor and I think there are generations of families being subjected to economic poverty, struggling to find decent jobs, our poorest neighborhoods having two-thirds of their fathers either locked up or on probation.

Children in poor communities are growing up without their fathers and entire families get caught up in a sticky web of incarceration, probation, violations of probation, the money bail system, the loss of jobs, and the downward spiral of cyclical poverty being passed down to the next generation.

These men have the potential to be caregivers and productive members of the community, but because they can’t afford to pay bail or they violate their probation rules, mostly in a minor way, they get locked up again and again.

There is definitely an inequality in our society, and I see this inequality disproportionately affecting poor minority groups. Over 70 percent of men released from Delaware’s prisons will return to prison within three years. Charles Madden, with the HOPE Commission, said, “Becoming a felon is more devastating today. Those released from prison are often denied jobs when employers find out they have a felony record. Monetary bail disproportionately affects poor minorities who often do not have the money to get out of jail. Ninety percent of them are there because they cannot secure enough money for bail. Poor defendants are more likely to take a plea — even if they are innocent — just to avoid spending more time in prison.”

Minority groups who are poor get really hurt by the money bail system, and this is one thing that needs to change. Please voice your concerns about Our Department of Correction. Please attend the public hearing on Dec. 1 in Georgetown.

Those interested in offering comment at the public hearing can preregister at: www.courts.delaware.gov/supreme/accessform.stm.

Same-day registration also will be available at each location. Comments will be limited to five minutes. Written comments can be submitted through Dec. 18.

DOC Commissioner Robert Coupe outlined some of the issues facing the agency charged with managing a population of about 7,000 inmates and the litany of problems they bring with them into the correctional system.

“Forty percent of the people coming into our facility have some sort of mental health issue,” Commissioner Coupe told the crowd gathered at the Surf Bagel restaurant. Substance abuse among incoming inmates is rampant; a problem the state battles with programs intended to break the cycle of addiction. In the current fiscal year, the DOC budget contains $7.25 million for drug and alcohol treatment. The current agency budget contains more than $56 million appropriated for inmate medical issues, including $800,000 a month for pharmaceuticals. DOC’s FY 2016 operating budget is $288.4 million — an increase of about 12.5 percent from FY 2010.

Pencil in this date for a public hearing in Georgetown: On Tuesday, Dec. 1. Public comment about our Prison System will be accepted from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at First State Community Action Agency, 308 N. Railroad Avenue in Georgetown.

Jim Martin

Director and program manager, A.C.E. Peer Resource Center and Haven at the Peer Transitional House

Seaford

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