Pubdate: Wed, 04 Mar 2015
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2015 New Haven Register
Author: Ed Stannard


John S. Santa has been successful in the fuel oil and energy 
business, but his real passion is trying to reduce the population of 
nonviolent offenders in the state's correctional system and to help 
those who are released into a society that turns its back on ex-offenders.

Santa and the Rev. Marilyn B. Kendrix, associate pastor of Church of 
the Redeemer, United Church of Christ, met with the New Haven 
Register's editorial board Tuesday as members of the Malta Justice 
Initiative, which is, among other things, supporting Gov. Dannel P. 
Malloy's "Second Chance Society" proposals to reduce the human and 
financial costs of the state's criminal justice system.

The group has met with 45 groups, such as civic clubs and churches, 
and found ignorance about the extent of the issue.

"They didn't know our incarceration rate was nine times that of 
Germany per 100,000," Santa said. "They didn't know that in America, 
the land of the free and the home of the brave, in the 1990s, we 
finished a new prison every two weeks. ... When they found out what 
they're paying for that, they weren't very happy. And when they 
further found out what the result was, and that was that six out of 
10 people having been incarcerated are back in (prison) within three 
years, they were very disappointed and they wanted to do something."

But the group hasn't stopped there. It plans to hold a legislative 
breakfast, sponsored by Democratic and Republican leaders, to promote 
Malloy's initiatives, which would budget an additional $1 million for 
school-based diversion programs, reduce drug possession to a 
misdemeanor and "eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug 
possession" when a weapon is not involved, as several states have done.

Malloy also would "streamline" parole hearings for such inmates and 
make full pardons easier to receive after "several years of 
responsible citizenship."

Santa, who called Malloy's proposals "a bold step," said that once 
the Order of Malta members investigated the issue, "We saw a new 
mission for us to educate and inform the public, because we know 
this: The rubber meets the road up on Capitol Avenue. The rubber 
meets the road when a law is made. The rubber meets the road when a 
budget is set."

The order has also published a book, "The Justice Imperative: 
How-Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked the American Dream," which 
portrays "Connecticut as a kind of case study," Kendrix said, and 
which has 30 recommendations for improvements. It has been 
distributed to all state lawmakers and students at Yale Divinity School.

The group also has targeted business, academic and faith communities 
because of their "vested interest." Houses of worship have a mission 
to see people as redeemable, Santa said, and business communities can 
easily see that "we can identify readily $1 billion we're spending in 
the state of Connecticut every year but we do think the peripheral 
costs approaches closer to $2 billion" in courts, police and criminal 
justice programs.

Much of their work is educating the public about how severe the 
problem is in a country that incarcerates 2.2 million people, more 
than 36 countries combined, including Russia.

"I felt like I was a fairly intelligent person ... and well read," 
Kendrix said, "and yet I was surprised by a lot of the information 
about howour criminal justice system works in America. I did not know 
about mass incarceration. And so I felt like, if I didn't know, 
surely there are other people out there, good people of faith who 
would be concerned if they did know."

Kendrix preaches at other churches besides her own, mostly United 
Churches of Christ, but others as well. A onetime manager at AT&T, 
Kendrix changed her career later in life and graduated from Yale 
Divinity School.

"I had pretty much convinced that congregation of the United Church 
of Christ that this is an issue that all good people of faith who 
were concerned about human justice should be concerned about. They 
support my preaching and teaching about mass incarceration at other 
churches two Sundays a month.

"We also understand that our legislators need to know that these are 
issues that are of concern to their constituents such that they will 
feel like they don't have to beat the 'tough on crime' drum in order 
to get elected and stay elected. ... We can redeem these people who 
have been caught up in this system so that they become law-abiding 
and contribute to our tax base rather than a drain on it."

Santa said the legislative breakfast represents a "tectonic shift" in 
the legislature but Kendrix said awareness is still too low in the 
general public when it comes to awareness of the issue and its costs.

For example, from 1980 to 1985, according to "The Justice 
Imperative," Connecticut spent $1 billion to expand its prisons and 
jails, and most of the inmates are incarcerated on minor drug 
charges, parole violations or minor crimes.

"When I speak to groups either in churches or, since we wrote the 
book, secular audiences as well, folks are amazed, shocked, didn't 
know, didn't understand, thought the war on drugs was something that 
happened in the '80s and is over," Kendrix said. "We live in a 
sound-bite society and 'tough on crime' is the sound bite. And it's 
my goal to help people think about this issue in a more complex way."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom