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"TRUTH" - In Sentencing

When Michigan citizens voted in so-called Truth in Sentencing, eliminating opportunities for Michigan's prisoners to earn time off their sentences, they likely did so thinking it was the right thing to do. Certainly, victims of crime deserve justice for the harms we've caused them. But the authors of the Truth in Sentencing legislation failed to explain to Michigan voters how longer prison sentences equated to justice. A basic concept in the field of psychology highlights the fact that positive reinforcement is more effective in changing behavior than either negative or positive punishment. Punishment certainly has its place in the justice system. Crime should be punished. But removing all positive reinforcements, like reducing sentences for demonstrating good behavior, reinforces that Michigan's justice system's primary goal is retribution. This outmoded singular concept of justice fails to acknowledge that most prisoners will one day return to their communities. If we fail to reinforce good behavior while prisoners are serving their time, how can society expect these returning citizens to highly value good behavior upon exiting prison? Most prisoners committed crimes because of misplaced or immoral value systems. Good time legislation will not fix this problem, but it assists in reinforcing the value of positive moral behavior. I am currently serving a 17-45 year sentence for criminal sexual conduct. I deserved to be punished for my crime. I needed the time that prison has afforded me to rethink my own value system, to correct faulty thinking patterns, and to build a moral value system that respects all life and seeks to defend the vulnerable in our society. I'm ashamed of my past behavior, but I've fought hard to use that shame to compel me to change. I would have done this work with or without so-called good time legislation because it was critical to my own journey. I have done all of this work of transformation without the help of the Michigan Department of Corrections. Their goal is to simply warehouse prisoners until their release date, fulfilling their obligations on paper rather than focusing on transforming lives. To be fair, the work of transformation is difficult and probably expensive. But it cannot possibly be more expensive than funding a revolving door into prison. That's one reason why the Michigan people ought to value the hard work that prisoners do, often on their own, to become safe, contributing citizens who will not only be safe in their communities but who will also work to make amends for the harms they've caused. When prisoners demonstrate initiative to transform their thinking and behavior, society ought to reinforce those positive behaviors. Since coming to prison, I have worked on addictive thinking and behaviors, including becoming a group leader for Celebrate Recovery. I have also earned a bachelor's degree in Faith and Community Leadership through Calvin University (, and written a book about prison for loved ones on the outside ("Insider's Guide to Prison Life"). Additionally, I've worked to help other prisoners better themselves through developing and facilitating college prep classes, facilitating life skills classes, tutoring trades and college students, and participated in restorative justice dialogues. These are only a small sample of the important rehabilitative work I've done during my last thirteen years in prison. To be sure, my own journey of transformation will continue on the other side of these fences. I anticipate maintaining a growth mindset for the rest of my life. Those I've harmed deserve at least that much from me. If Michigan decides to reward prisoners who are focused on becoming safe, contributing citizens, it would mean that I can continue giving back on the other side of these fences. It would also mean I can help care for my mother, and help my brother with his business. It would mean I can begin to find ways to help heal the wounds I've caused, and if that is not possible, to help prevent others from causing the same kinds of wounds. Justice can never be measured in years. Instead, it should be measured by what prison intends to accomplish. If Michigan simply wants to get offenders out of communities for as long as possible and return them to their communities unchanged, or sadly often worse off, it should not pass good time legislation. If, however, Michigan wants to join the other 49 states in reinforcing good behavior and self-directed rehabilitative efforts, then good time legislation makes sense for Michigan.

Bryan Noonan #739416 Handlon Correctional Facility Ionia, MI Co-author of "Insider's Guide to Prison Life: A handbook for prisoner's loved ones" (available at ReplyForward

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