Stephanie Taylor-Silva spent years behind bars for drug trafficking. In July 2017, she received full pardons for her crimes in Idaho. She is on track to graduate from college later this year.
Earlier this month, she spoke to students in the Jacob Spori Building and to a TEDx audience in Idaho Falls of her experiences and how her probation officer mentored her to success.
Taylor-Silva’s story shows what can happen when people are given second chances.
Many people who spend time in prison aren’t given second chances, and their punishment doesn’t end the day they finish their sentence. Their criminal record follows them for the rest of their lives. They have difficulties finding employment. Soon, they return to crime and end up back in prison because the system sets them up for failure.
According to The Marshall Project, “Former inmates reentering society often get ensnared in a web of laws that dictate their post-prison lives, from where they can live, to what they can do for a living, to whether they can ever vote.”
Idaho was one of 15 states where both the prison population and prison spending increased from 2010 to 2015, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. The prison population grew by 8 percent, and prison spending increased by 18 percent.
The most recent data from the Idaho Department of Correction shows a 4.4 percent increase in the state prison population from a year ago. As of February, 8,456 people are incarcerated in Idaho prisons.
The United States, as a whole, has the largest prison population in the world and the second largest incarceration rate per capita.
More people should receive pardons, but we also need to change the policies and laws that put so many people in prison in the first place.
There are many policy proposals that seek to undo the harsh criminal policies of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. These include eliminating mandatory minimum sentences — wherein judges are forced, by law, to hand out harsh sentences against their better judgment — decriminalizing drugs and “ban the box” proposals that encourage employers to consider potential employees with a criminal history.
Local district attorneys are beginning to erase thousands of minor marijuana convictions in California after voters legalized it in 2016. This is a step in the right direction.
Larry Krasner is leading a criminal justice reform movement in Philadelphia. Since taking office as district attorney of Philadelphia at the start of this year, Krasner has announced his office will no longer press criminal charges against those caught with marijuana. He also announced a sentence review program, wherein prosecutors would be able to review the cases of inmates whose punishment did not fit their crime.
We, as a society, must show more compassion toward those caught in violation of the law, regardless of whether we believe the law itself is just. We need new policies that will allow people second chances.
We need to look beyond punishment and redirect our efforts toward education, parolee mentoring and other solutions that keep people out of the system.