What do Angola prison warden Burl Cain (a champion of faith-based prison ministries) and Marjorie Esman of the Louisiana ACLU have in common? They both think locking up thousands of old folks who couldn’t re-offend if they wanted to is an expensive outrage.
Our extreme sentencing policies and a growing number of life sentences have effectively turned many of our correctional facilities into veritable nursing homes — and taxpayers are paying for it. A new ACLU report supplies detailed and practical solutions that states and the federal government can implement to address the dramatic and costly growth in the number of elderly prisoners without putting communities at risk.
Marjorie Esman had lots of good reasons NOT to call up Burl Cain. When mass incarceration is presented with a racial justice frame (think Angola 3) the warden of Louisiana’s most notorious prison comes off sounding like the reincarnation of Bull Conner. But when the focus narrows to a reform issue Cain supports, a surprising outlook overlap appears.
The warden of America’s largest prison believes in rehabilitation. If we took all the money we’re spending to keep elderly prisoners alive and invested it in education programs for young offenders, he says, we could lower recidivism rates and improve public safety.
Makes sense to me.
Hats off to Marjorie Esman for making the call, and to the ACLU for exhibiting the kind of pragmatic compassion it takes to get a reform message in front of a mainstream audience.