The Malta Justice Initiative (MJI) is a faith-based organization in Southport, Conn. working towards four essential goals involving mass incarceration and prison reform: (1) reduce the prison population in Connecticut by 50 percent within five years, (2) lower the recidivism rate in Connecticut by 30 percent within five years, (3) shut down half of Connecticut’s correctional facilities within five years, and (4) lower Connecticut spending on prisons by 50 percent within five years while allocating 66 percent of the remaining expenditures towards treatment facilities and post-release support.

MJI was launched by John Santa, a former corporate CEO, after his corporate attorney friend was sent to prison for embezzlement. After the corporate attorney sent Santa a sentimental apology letter from prison, John was prompted to visit his friend in jail and take action against the injustices millions of prisoners face in the U.S. Initially, Santa began participating in prison ministry, but he then started expanding his efforts to launch an organization that would eventually provide prisoners with Bibles and other reading materials. Later on, MJI was formed and went on to speak to different religious groups, businesses, and communities throughout Connecticut. Upon the realization that the average Connecticut citizen has little knowledge about America’s punitive criminal justice system, the costs associated with privatized prisons, and recidivism rate, MJI utilized their public speaking accounts to outline an influential book that sparked legislative change.

John Santa and other representatives of the Malta Justice Initiative are coming to visit the University on April 17 to talk about their CBS News-featured book titled “The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked the American Dream,” which outlines 30 recommendations for legislative change that will ultimately cut costs, lower recidivism, increase public safety, and support ex-offenders and their families.

MJI not only advocates for legislative reform, but also offers lectures and presentations to further educate the general public about the benefits of reintegration of the formerly incarcerated, visits inmates to minister to their faith-based needs, facilitates re-entry programs for ex-offenders to transition back into their communities as rehabilitated and employed citizens, and promotes the crucial necessity for society to hire released prisoners.

In working with business organizations, attending legislative hearings, meeting with lawyers to provide expert testimony, collaborating with social service agencies, and partnering with transitional housing organizations, MJI has successfully aided in securing employment for Connecticut’s ex-offenders.

Wesleyan does not officially discriminate against others on the basis of past criminal record. However, many other businesses and schools around the Connecticut area deny formerly incarcerated people job opportunities that would support their families, benefit our economy, and reduce crime and recidivism rates. In rejecting ex-offenders participation in the workforce, we put them at a disadvantage by forbidding them from a more successful, productive life.

How can the Wesleyan community help ex-offenders reintegrate into society? People can become meaningfully involved in this effort to change the Connecticut’s criminal justice system by: (1) looking into “The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked the American Dream,” (2) contacting the Malta Justice Initiative or local elected officials to voice your support for legislative prison reform, (3) volunteering with/working for social service agencies supporting ex-offenders, (4) giving groups interested in this topic the option to consider a presentation from MJI, (5) donating to this initiative, (6) promoting the decision to hire ex-offenders or include them in your job community, and/or (7) becoming a Malta Justice Associate who communicates with legislators and participates in a strong network group representing distinct sectors of Connecticut and its populations. You can make an indispensable impact on communities largely affected by the results of mass incarceration and help individual ex-prisoners succeed by partaking in the initiative.

If you’re interested in Wesleyan programs and events involving the topic of mass incarceration, there is a talk on April 18 with Sylvia Ryerson ’10 called Restorative Radio: Public Airwaves in the Age of Mass Incarceration. In addition, stay tuned for Center for Prison Education opportunities and look into the course cluster for Fall 2016-Spring 2017: “Incarceration and American Literature,” “A History of Incarceration in the United States,” and “Collaborative Cluster Initiative Research Seminar I.”

Weiler is a member of the class of 2019.

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