Social workers discuss criminal justice reform

Nov 2, 2015

By Rena Malai, News staff

NASW member Sammy Rangel has cumulatively spent about 16 years in prison throughout his life, mainly for charges related to theft and violence.

Rangel, who originally is from Chicago, said he started getting into trouble with the law at age 11. He repeatedly ran away from home, and joined a gang — eventually becoming its leader.

On reflection, Rangel says he always felt a need within himself to protect others and he was seeking a sense of belonging; a place to escape from a troubled childhood. But he didn’t know at the time how to handle those feelings or find a path for himself.

He is now a social worker in Racine, Wis., helping other ex-offenders establish healthier and more productive lives through the Racine Vocational Ministry, where he is the re-entry program director. The ministry offers a second-chance program for re-entrants — those establishing themselves back into society after a prison sentence.

“Everyone deserves a second chance,” Rangel said. “I’ve been through it all — foster care, rehab, solitary confinement, mental institutions — and I changed. People can change, and not every criminal is bad. Our criminal justice system needs to change, so we can give those who deserve it a chance.”

Many people agree that the U.S. criminal justice system is broken, including President Barack Obama, who in July called on Congress to take up criminal justice reform. A bipartisan group on Capitol Hill was putting the final touches on a sentencing overhaul deal during the same month.

Obama said in his State of the Union address that the current lower crime rate is a starting point to reform the criminal justice system.

“ … Surely we can agree that it’s a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves all of us,” Obama said.

From the November 2015 NASW News. Read the full story here.

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