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December 11, 2007

Looking at some the realities of reentry

Gr_pr_071217excon185x223Though not quite stated in these terms, some of the debate over the retroactivity of the new crack amendments is really a debate about whether the offenders that might benefit from the reduced sentences are prepared to re-enter the community and become productive citizens.  Against this backdrop, this new article about reentry realities in US News & World Report is a must read.  Here are some highlights:

Getting cons to stay ex-cons has long been one of the most vexing challenges of the criminal justice system.  One out of every 31 American adults is in jail, on parole, or on probation, and the central reality is this: Nearly everyone who enters the prison system eventually gets out.

The problem is, most of those ex-offenders quickly find themselves back inside. Today, ending the cycle of recidivism has become an increasingly urgent problem as communities nationwide are forced to absorb record numbers of prisoners who also often struggle with addiction and other illness.

There are more than 1.5 million people in state or federal prison for serious offenses and 750,000 others in jail for more minor crimes.  Prison populations have swelled since the early 1970s, and now offenders are returning to their neighborhoods at a rate of more than 1,400 per day. In 1994, nearly 457,000 prisoners were released from state and federal custody, and in 2005, almost 699,000 prisoners were released. That is the largest single exodus of ex-convicts in American history....

The process of coordinated prisoner reintegration is now known as "re-entry," rather than rehabilitation or release.  Whereas rehabilitation assumed that individuals could change on their own, re-entry focuses on educating employers and communities about how they can help the offender on the outside. It aims to break though the red tape that has historically delayed social services for felons and to prevent the snags — like drug treatment programs that reject offenders who have been clean only a short time — that keep them from making a healthy return to society.

In practice, that means synchronizing many different social and correctional services while offenders are still inmates and continuing that assistance after their release. Re-entry programs don't necessarily require more funding, just better coordination of existing resources like job training and stable housing. "Rehab is focused on the individual offender; re-entry is about communities, families, children, coworkers, and neighbors," says Amy Solomon, a criminal justice researcher at the Urban Institute.

December 11, 2007 at 01:54 PM | Permalink


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Although there is a desperate need for improvement of reentry resources across the country, holding people sentenced to absurdly long periods for drug issues will not help them be better suited for their eventual return to society. While they will face challenges reintegrating into civilian society and overcoming their addictions, serving years and years in prison only makes the challenges harder. Sound policy would shift funding from the savings from shortening prison sentences to re-entry counseling and support systems, but we all know that stands a ice cube's chance in hell.

Posted by: Harry Reisig | Dec 11, 2007 4:03:33 PM

Changing the language would help. Calling formerly incarcerated persons "ex-cons" is similar to calling hoemless person "bums."

Posted by: Mansfield Frazier | Dec 11, 2007 6:50:43 PM

The pendulum has swung to far. In the 1970s it was too easy to get out of prison. Now it's too hard.

Successful re-entry cannot and should not be something that someone else does for the (former) prisoner. They have to do it themselves. What the system can and should do is create incentives that will reward choices made on the inside that are likely to lead to success on the outside.

Most offenders should be given a chance to earn their way out somewhat (perhaps 25%) earlier than they would otherwise be released if they make concrete achievements that will improve their chances on the outside. The bar should be set high, but not impossibly so.

The type of achievement I am talking about would be something like earning a GED, or becoming a skilled worker in one of those prison factories that still exist.

I do not suggest this for the truly dangerous such as murderers and serial rapists. I am talking about people who have been convicted of lesser crimes such as drug possession, low-level drug dealing, obstruction of justice, unsophisticated fraud (i.e, passing bad checks), or consensual statutory rape of someone who is close to the age of consent

Posted by: William Jockusch | Dec 11, 2007 11:31:05 PM

"Communities" have constructed unreasonable barriers for convicted felons, convinced by government and media scare tactics I'm sure, such as limited and disqualified access to rentals, jobs, loans, assistance, voting, etc. These must be taken down and the convictee must be seen as a person/human who made a mistake, paid for it (the most overlooked part) and needs to get on with life like any other person/human. Much serious work and education of the public needs to be done in this area. They, ex's paid dearly for their mistakes (read "Confronting Confinement" a report of The Commission On Safety And Abuse In America's Prisons), it's over, now lets get on with providing a normal life for them. I'm an ex myself...

Posted by: Teco | Apr 14, 2008 2:03:18 AM

re: William Jockusch, yes, reinstate federal parole, otherwise you have prisoners with "nothing to lose' and behavior subsequent to that reality. "Nothing to lose" as a psychological condition is dangerously ignored/unaware of in the criminal justice industrial complex.

Posted by: Teco | Apr 14, 2008 2:16:17 AM

The laws need to change quiclky. How can someone get on with their life when the system holds them accountable for the past. I have seen this alot lately. My past will not allow me to have a future. My debt has been paid, but the job world doesn't care anything about that at all. I wonder why that is so my family needs to live just like theirs.

Posted by: Antoine | Apr 24, 2008 11:39:51 AM

Community rehabilitation programs can not be all that is looked at or modified. The real issue why ex-offenders can not become successfull citizens goes much further. Employers are scared to hire ex-convicts due to liability suits, and fearful of what current employees may say if they find out their co-worker is a crimminal. Laws should be enforced to require industries to define what charges can not be acceptable. For example a Bank may not want to hire a bank robber. Also, there should be a mandated law all negative information on crimminal background checks after 7 years should not be reported. THis is already happening now with most background check companies, the citizen just doesnt know this. And lastly with the seven year rule, ex-convicts who have kept themselves from repeating further acts of crime should then be allowed to legally say no to have you been convicted of a crimminal offense. History has proven the first three years of a release convict is most likely to commit another crime. Seven years would be more than enough to prove whether a ex-convict would be trustworthy, and society needs to learn how forgive to give people a chance in life.

Posted by: Joe | May 29, 2008 4:28:54 PM

I am on Federal Probation for a drug charge from 1997. I was doing fine until Kidney Failure. I receive Social Security and need housing. The managment compannies who manage subsidized reject my applications be cause of my conviction. Is there is any help I can get?

Posted by: Sedrick Moore | Jun 12, 2008 2:15:28 PM

I am on Federal Probation for a drug charge from 1997. I was doing fine until Kidney Failure. I receive Social Security and need housing. The managment compannies who manage subsidized properties reject my applications be cause of my conviction. Is there is any help I can get?

Posted by: Sedrick Moore | Jun 12, 2008 2:18:12 PM

Oh Yeah:
Easier said than done.I live in Fayetteville NC and no-one after 8 months in Culpeper Virginia's finest Sheriff's jail.Has anyone tried to help me here in Cumberland County?No after 18 years in Civil Service @ Ft. Bragg NC all they want to do is fire me instead of letting me transfer to another job within the system.

Posted by: Richard Chandler | Jun 11, 2009 11:33:24 PM

I can agree with you all. I am a convicted felon back 5 or 6 years ago. I have been a CNA for 13 years and no one here in Fayeteville, NC wil give me a job. I am asingle parent of two children, and can not support them. My conviction was not even drug related and I am treated like a murderer. Could some PLEASE HIRE ME!!!!!

Posted by: UNknown | Oct 22, 2009 7:25:37 PM

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