The New York Times’ editorial this past Sunday (End Mass Incarceration Now) demonstrates the focus and attention that is finally being given to the problems of incarceration in the US.

What is supposed to be the most democratic country in the world does not treat its citizens fairly.  Incarceration not only has become a human rights issue; it is a civil rights issue as well–close to 70% of those incarcerated are persons of color.

I am so reminded of Nelson Mandela’s insight on the treatment of prisoners as a reflection of a country’s committment to upholding the dignity of its citizens: “Ir is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”

The news media, politicians as different as Newt Gringrich and Andrew Cuomo are speakiing out, human rights groups are issuing reports, but until laws are enacted and prison regulations are changed, the close to 2.2 million incarcerated individuals remain in prison.

We’re paying attention, but change is a slow process.  Meanwhile, millions of lives have been halted or stopped forever.  Millions of families struggle on the outside with the effects of having their loved ones locked inside–poverty, family dissolution and fatherless and motherless children.  Millions of Americans don’t even realize how they’re affected–recividism rates as high as 70% creating unsafe communities–not because people want to re-offend but because they haven’t been provided the tools not to.

Mandela’s own jail experience gave him greater clarity than others, and he understood the  way to deter crime and improve the incarcerated’s lives:

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

While we’re waiting for things to change and the prison doors to open to better alternatives than incarceration, why not provide those presently incarcerated with a tool for success when they re-enter our communities–education & training.

End Mass Incarceration Now