The Valjean Society - Building a Safer Community and a Better Tomorrow
Jean Valjean, the lead protagonist from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables was convicted of theft for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's children. Set in 1820's France, the story follows Valjean after his release from 20 years hard labor incarceration. Released as a felon on parole, Valjean realizes that there is no hope for him to live. After being forgiven for stealing silver from a kindly bishop, Valjean understands redemption and is determined to give others a chance as well. He absconds from parole, changes his name, and eventually becomes the mayor of a small French town. Valjean institutes strong progressive reforms, ensuring fair employment, real justice and a true concern for his town and citizens. Unfortunately, his oppressive prison guard becomes prefect of police in Valjean's town and subsequently recognizes him. As a result, Javier persecutes Valjean and pursues him in a misguided and vengeful sense of justice. Valjean's town suffers. Valjean suffers. Even Javier suffers. In the end, no one is left unscarred by the brutal sense of lifelong disenfranchisement advocated by the unyielding Javier. Even though 200 years have passed from the time of Victor Hugo and his characters in Les Miserables, our sense of vengeful justice has not disappeared. It is well past due for change. The Valjean Society intends to lead the way for better communities though real reentry reform.
Every year, 600,000 men and women are released from correctional facilities around the nation. They leave those bars with hope for a better tomorrow...but soon realize that they simply exchanged one prison for another. They left behind the prison of bars and razor wire for the new prison of rejection, scorn, fear and hopelessness. Such a system is not sustainable for anyone - and particularly not sustainable for a safe society.
America needs significant reform in our prisons, but no reform is as needed as reforming our reentry programs. Politicians criticize ex-convicts for their high rate of recidivism, yet at the same time push for legislation that creates endless obstacles to successful reentry. Why? Votes. A politician who supports real reentry reform and spending runs the risk of that most horrible of all labels - "weak on criminals". Yet, if reentry programs have a demonstrable track record of successfully reducing recidivism and the overall crime rate, how is that interpreted as "weak on criminals"? The real question is this: is being "tough on crime" actually being "stupid on crime"? The answer - absolutely.
America must reject the philosophy of never ending punishment. Instead, our society must embrace structured reentry to society, and the willingness to embrace individuals who choose to act responsibly. In short, we must establish proper programs to address successful reentry. Yet what is necessary to successfully transition from prison into legitimate society?
There are five keys to successful reentry, including basic education while incarcerated. The four post incarceration keys to success are stable and employment, stable housing, treatment for mental illness or chemical dependency, and connection to positive social circles. Without even one of these components, reentry will be unsuccessful and the individual will return to a life of crime out of sheer necessity. The options for an ex-convict are limited, and society is unforgiving. Real reform is the only way to a better society.