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"Exercises In Empathy" is a popular program among the inmates at Soledad State Prison in California. It's a book club where inmates get together to discuss literature with students from Palma School, a boys prep school located in nearby Salinas.

"[The students] go in thinking monster … and they come out thinking a man. A human being," Jim Micheletti, co-founder of the book club, told CBS News. "They've done bad things, but there are no throwaway people here."

A few years ago, members of the club read 1962's "Miracle On The River Kwai." The book tells an extraordinary story of survival in prisoner of war camps. In the book, the prisoners created a culture of sacrifice and called it "mucking" for each other.

So one of the inmates in the book club, Jason Bryant, decided that the inmates should "muck' for one of the students at Palma.

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Judge Carlos Moore has a unique approach to the justice system in which he serves—one that many people find refreshing.

Moore is a municipal judge and attorney in Mississippi. He's also the President-elect of the National Bar Association and is listed as a "Rising Star" in African-American Leadership Magazine's 2020 Top 100 Influential African-American Leaders list. In 2017, he made national news when the first thing he did after being sworn in was remove the Mississippi state flag from his courtroom. (Up until this year, the Mississippi state flag had the confederate flag, widely seen as a symbol of white supremacy, as part of its design.)

Unafraid to take bold steps to ensure justice is served in a way that actually improves people's lives. One way he does that is using alternative sentencing—giving unique, creative, individualized consequences instead of standard fines or jail time.

Moore wrote in an Instagram post:

"As a judge I love alternative sentencing especially for young people. Today I announced that I would give an 18 year old young lady a break on a speeding ticket if she brings me back proof that she voted in next Tuesday's general election or writes 500 word essay on the importance of voting. Then I told a young 17 year old man that if he pulled up one of his Cs to a B by his next report card I would withhold adjudication on a misdemeanor ticket. Our young people are our greatest treasure and if I can encourage them to be their best and do their best I'm happy."

"I believe in alternative sentencing especially when dealing with young people who have accepted responsibility for their wrongs," Moore told Upworthy. "I believe that by giving the young people unexpected choices or alternatives to jail or a fine I can have a bigger impact on their lives and futures. I really favor rehabilitation over pure punishment."

Moore's approach has fans. As psychiatrist and author James Gilligan wrote in the New York Times in 2012, "If any other institutions in America were as unsuccessful in achieving their ostensible purpose as our prisons are, we would shut them down tomorrow." Alternative sentencing such as community service or restitution—or more creative options such as Moore's "get your grades up" or "show me you understand civic duty"—appeals to those of us who understand that punitive measures are not always the most effective. A study from the Macarthur Foundation found that when people are informed that rehabilitation is more effective than incarceration, people were willing to pay more in taxes to support it.

Rehabilitation also saves money overall. In an article in The Conversation, Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, a professor of economics at the University of Birmingham, wrote that community sentences cost on average a quarter of the amount as prison sentences and reduce crime more than prison sentences do.

But for Moore, alternative sentencing is primarily about what's going to be best for the young person in front of his bench.

"I want all that appear before me to be better upon and after meeting me than before doing the same," he says, adding, "I think anyone who administers justice must also know how to show mercy."

Justice must be served, but justice doesn't automatically mean handing down harsh punishments. Providing young people an incentive to improve is perhaps the best way to prevent crime—it requires them to take responsibility while simultaneously instilling hope and faith in their own futures.

More of this wholesome, reasonable approach to criminal justice, please, and thank you for providing the example, Judge Moore. We love to see it.

Update: Cyntoia Brown has been granted full clemency and released from prison after serving 15 years for killing a man who bought her for sex at age 16.

Brown requested no media availability on the day of her release (smart girl), but released this public statement:

"While first giving honor to God who made all of this possible, I would also like to thank my many supporters who have spoken on my behalf and prayed for me. I'm blessed to have a very supportive family and friends to support me in the days to come. I look forward to using my experiences to help other women and girls suffering abuse and exploitation. I thank Governor and First Lady Haslam for their vote of confidence in me and with the Lord's help I will make them as well as the rest of my supporters proud."

Welcome back to freedom, Cyntoia.

Brown's case has tested the limits of our justice system and gained the attention of criminal justice reform advocates and celebrities alike. Here's a rundown of the basics of her case:

Brown was born to a mother who abused drugs and alcohol and placed her up for adoption. As a teen, Brown ran away from her adoptive family and was taken in by a pimp who raped her and forced her into prostitution. In 2004, a 43-year-old real estate agent, Johnny Allen, paid $150 to have sex with Brown—then 16—and took her to his home.

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As Americans, we have inherited some pretty huge problems with our criminal justice system.

People of color face incarceration at disproportionate rates compared to white people, and many people go to jail or prison when they should be getting mental health treatment instead.

A lot of these problems remain under the radar because for many Americans, prisons are out of sight and out of mind. Lately, thanks to the hard work of activists, filmmakers like Ava Duvernay, and other advocates, criminal justice reform has been in the spotlight.

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