By Clara Prander ’22
Some time ago we had the pleasure of hosting Scott Semple as a guest speaker here at FGS. It was very interesting, and the student body gained new perspectives about prisons here in Connecticut. Mr. Semple talked about his job and his work with reforming the prisons here in Connecticut. At first, his intention wasn’t to work in the prison system, but when he realized the opportunities and the possible impact he could make he decided to lead prison reform in Connecticut. The reason he wanted to reform the prisons is that in most cases they are not helping the inmates return to society. If we reform our prisons, they might actually help people to become positive citizens.
A trip that Mr. Semple took that made the most impact on him was when he traveled to Germany and got to look at their prisons. Shockingly, they were not nearly alike the prisons here in the US; every inmate had his own cell and was much freer. The system focused more on rehabilitation than punishing— a strategy that seems to be effective. After that trip, he decided to try to reform the prisons here so that they resemble the German prisons, and that’s what he is working on doing.
Upon his visit to campus again, Mr. Semple remarked, “It is always a privilege to visit campus. I admire the name change and think that it more aptly recognizes the namesake of Mr. Gunn. The school administration, faculty, and support staff appear to have done an exceptional job creating and implementing pandemic protocols to provide a safe environment for all during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Frederick Gunn School remains an institution that our family immensely admires and appreciates because of its commitment to learning, quality of life, and diversity.”
When asked about what inspires him to continue with his work, he said, “I am inspired to do this work because I believe that society has a moral obligation to be responsive, in a productive way, to people that have had their liberty removed or diminished by virtue of incarceration. I believe that a humane and dignified approach to correcting through systemic accountability versus incapacitation is how we should invest in all justice impacted people. As I often say, “A correctional system without hope is a system in chaos.” Correctional systems in our country need to focus on instilling and influencing redeeming qualities to the consumer (incarcerated people) through comprehensive treatment programs, mentorship, and healing. One last thing. Whenever I share these thoughts in public, people will often inquire or question what about those who have been victimized by criminals. That is a valid concern that I too am very sensitive about. The fact is, 95% percent of the incarcerated population will someday be released back into our communities. Many victims will acknowledge that they don’t want what happened to them to happen to another innocent person. Therefore, we have to improve our response to recidivism and harm reduction through a comprehensive and evidence-based lens that is measurable and sustainable.”
Overall it was really interesting, instructive, and informative to hear his speech. It gave students more insight into a subject few people probably know much about. Thank you to Mr. Semple and Mr. Gritti for organizing this day for our community.