RSCI Feature: Prison Reform Club

Eva Mihelich, Staff writer

Prison reform is a hot topic today with the United States having the highest rates of incarceration in the world. More light has been shed on the poor conditions in prisons, with the environment hardly being livable. In addition to the poor conditions, prison reform holds the belief that the entire system of incarceration must be rethought.

Questions of the effectiveness of incarceration have been brought up in recent years, especially as human rights activists have begun to think about the inherent rights that people have despite the actions that might have gotten them locked up. The goals listed on the website of The Sentencing Project are as follows: Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and cutting back on excessively lengthy sentences; for example, by imposing a 20-year maximum on prison terms. Shifting resources to community-based prevention and treatment for substance abuse. Investing in interventions to promote strong youth development and respond to delinquency in age-appropriate and evidence-based ways. Examining and addressing the policies and practices, conscious or not, that contribute to racial inequity at every stage of the justice system. Removing barriers that make it harder for individuals with criminal records to turn their lives around.

The Sisters of Mercy, who founded Mercyhurst University, have nonviolence listed as one of their five critical concerns. This deals with issues like the end to the death penalty and any mistreatment of humans. This mission, combined with Mercyhurst’s criminal justice program, prompted the creation of the Student Alliance for Prison Reform Club.

Mercyhurst’s website has a brief summary of the club that encapsulates its goals and mission: “The purpose of The Student Alliance for Prison Reform is to create and support student initiatives to bring about change in the U.S. Criminal Justice System. In the same way, the Mercyhurst student chapter bears the same objectives. The stated objectives shall be fostering new student initiatives by connecting students with a criminal justice community, advocating for justice reforms that support education, health, safety and rehabilitation, educating campuses and communities on criminal justice, sentencing policy and the effects of mass incarceration.

”Students in this club learn about the various elements of prison reform, which draws in many people who are Criminal Justice majors, but also those who are interested in social justice initiatives and human rights issues, since both of these passions drive the prison reform movement. It is important to have this club for college students because we are people who will eventually be guiding future generations, and future generations should know the importance of the dignity of human life, and the different opinions surrounding capital punishment and incarceration.”

Elizabeth Marino, a senior Criminal Justice major, explained her viewpoint on the importance of prison reform. “After learning so much about the corruption and ineffectiveness of prisons over the years, particularly private prisons, prison reform is a topic that I am very passionate about. It’s heartbreaking to learn about the great struggles people have when they get out of prison, and their inability to get back on track in life due to all the walls and stigmas put up around them,” said Marino.

If you are passionate about prison reform and learning more about the prison system, you should consider joining the Student Alliance for Prison Reform Club. It offers great knowledge and experience for anyone of interest!