Letter to the editor: Failing at rehabilitation

To the editor:

As a foster parent, I have seen how our criminal justice system fails those who have contact with it, often with consequences so devastating that they are unable to bounce back.

I have seen this with one of my foster kids. His first contact with law enforcement officers came as a teenager, from alcohol use. The first time this happened I thought that in jail he’ll learn his lesson, but as he was arrested again and again, it became clear that jail time didn’t work. He would simply make a mistake, get caught, spend time in jail, lose his job, get out, struggle to find employment, drink again and re-offend.

What he needed was treatment for alcoholism, but the criminal justice system offered him only punishment. He is now 36, with a spotty work history three kids that he can’t support, and still struggles with alcohol use.

And so I’ve found myself reflecting on the true purpose of the criminal justice system. Through my eyes, it should do two things: first, protect society from truly dangerous people; and second, divert people like my son from repeatedly breaking the law. And, through my eyes, it’s not doing its job.

The bottom line is that locking people up is not rehabilitative. It’s harmful. Instead of spending taxpayer money on doubling our capacity to put people behind bars, county leadership should reflect on the true purpose of our criminal justice system and choose to invest in programs that will provide opportunities for rehabilitation.

Deb Engstrom,



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