Political efficacy is the belief that a citizen can influence political affairs and current governmental happenings. This behavior was brought into the forefroPnt of public awareness during the University of Montevallo’s Sociology Club meeting at Eclipse on Tuesday, Oct. 7. The Sociology Club hosted speakers Chris McCauley, the director of the David Mathews Center, which promotes civic responsibility, and K.A. Turner, director of opinion and commentary for the Alabama Media Group.
The topic of the night was the state of Alabama prisons, specifically Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Ala. McCauley, along with a group of investigative journalists, began researching the facility after learning of the potential threats, and determined that the institution is overcrowded, underfunded, provides poor living conditions, and is headed for disaster. The researchers found that Alabama prisons are at nearly double capacity, that taxpayer money is being spent to patch an ever growing leak and that the prison population is growing at an uncontrollable rate. If nothing can be done to change things by our own communities, then Alabama faces intervention from the federal government. California faced a similar situation in 2011, and the Federal solution was to simply release 30,000 prisoners. McCauley and Turner informed the room that citizens must step in and help find a solution in order to avoid such an outcome. They focused on the importance of being involved as a citizen and on how being an active community member can truly make a difference in real-world situations. McCauley passed around copies of his article that he had written that contained all of his compiled research and suggestions for solutions. At this time, Turner had the room split into small groups and discuss the different solutions, comparing pros and cons of each. The solutions were to increase prison capacity and improve basic living conditions, address root causes through education, support, rehabilitation and to implement alternative approaches to incarceration. The room had difficulty agreeing on any one solution – while some viewed the first solution as the easiest to achieve, many argued that it was far too costly and merely a temporary fix. McCauley posed the question “If we build our way out of it, are we really solving the problem?” However, the other options would be much harder to implement, though they would be targeting the problem in a long term fashion. A community member pointed out that the eventual solution would need to incorporate all three to be truly effective. The session stressed the importance of open communication between citizens to accomplish the goals of a community, and by creating a discussion about a specific and relevant civic issue, attendants of the program joined the statewide conversation.