By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
People who are released from prison deserve a second chance because it can help restore families and communities, said panelists during a session Tuesday night at the Church at Brook Hills.
The Prison Fellowship and Offender Alumni Association of Alabama hosted the event, “Unlocking Second Chances” and talked about the importance of second chances.
One panel included state Sen. Cam Ward; Former Alabama Dept. of Corrections Warden David Wise, Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Shanta Owens and Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr that was moderated by Craig Deroche, senior Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy for Prison Fellowship.
Asked why anyone should care about giving second chances to people with criminal records, Owens said, “I think it is so important for those of us who are Christians to show . . . what can be done if we give people second chances . . . give them an opportunity to be a better person,” she said.
Owens said she has spent the bulk of her judicial career in
offering second chances through the drug court program.
If we are true Christians living by God’s Holy Word then “we all know that everyone deserves a second, third, fourth and fifth chance at times,” Owens said.
Wise was asked what the role correctional institutions can play in giving second chances.
Putting the prison fellowship in place was one of the best things that can happen, he said.
“I can think of many programs, we had programs at St. Clair Correctional Facility that the inmates ran themselves…but all of them were based on religion, based on God . . . trying to put that spirit in people like you feel when you go to a revival or you come to church on Sunday morning, that’s the way I want that inmate to walk out there in that population yard.”
Alabama prisons are hot in the summer and cold in the winter and it’s a tough environment, he said.
“But there are men in there that are worth saving — granted there’s some in there that’s got life without parole, they’re not coming out — but you can still have a good life and make a difference in prison.”
Wise said it’s important to make the inmates (believe) “there is hope and you can turn your life around, there’s no…perfect way to do it but there is programs that can help,” said Wise.
The former warden said he’s seen men that come into with no hope, full of violence and hate. “And prison is a very violent, hateful, negative environment unfortunately,” he said. “To give these people second chances we have to have the proper programs in place, we have many good programs… but problem is we don’t have enough of them.”
There’s a reason why the programs are important, he said.
“Because most of these people are going (to) come back out here and their going (to) be your neighbors, they’re going (to) be working for you, they’re going to be in your home as a repair man…do you want to have the type of person that comes out hateful, mean, violent…or do you want to have somebody that’s had their behavior modified a little bit and changed?”
From a criminal justice perspective, Carr said a prosecutor often has to walk a tight rope between how does he or she use their discretion for the betterment of people but at the same time for public safety.
Discretion can be used to balance the scales “and to make sure that fairness and that people are treated with respect,” he said.
“But at the same time when I look at my life and my situation, being from Ensley from a single parent home to become the district attorney of this county in the largest office of the state, that’s God. And God puts you in positions for a reason, and I believe thatHhe blesses you because He knows you’re going to bless others…and I take that seriously,” said Carr.
Carr added that the bulk of his job is public safety and secondly to make sure that those who deserve a second chance, gets it and treated fairly and there isn’t a day that goes where he doesn’t reflect on the impact he makes on lives.
“One of the toughest things to do is often times to make decisions that you know are uncomfortable…and…controversial because most people see the district attorney as a person who believes in just lock them up and throw away the key,” he said.
Carr said many of his friends he grew up with are in prison so he identifies with “that side of the street somewhat, but at the same time I understand that…all of us deserve a second chance.”