Better recidivism strategy 

Last week, the same day that the Senate Judiciary Committee began considering whether and how to extend the Second Chance Act — designed to better the odds that the 700,000 prisoners released annually will not wind up back behind bars — the Justice Department’s inspector general released a pointed reminder about the limits of the program’s good intentions.

Even as Congress considers spending more, the inspector general found that the Justice Department had not devised any good way to monitor $100 million-plus already spent to know whether it has done anything to reduce the sobering U.S. rate of recidivism. Forty-four percent of those released are re-arrested within just the first year.

The scale of the problem, coupled with the lack of good evaluations, makes it imperative for Congress, in reauthorizing the act first passed by the Bush administration, to give priority to “re-entry” programs that are showing real promise, programs that emphasize employment.

Just as welfare-to-work has shown good results — cutting the number of households on public assistance from more than 5 million to less than 2 million — so, too, can prison-to-work.

The revolving door that sees those released from prison soon return is a problem in many dimensions. It’s a budget problem as states struggle to control the cost of prisons. It’s a public safety problem, especially for our cities, when those released are drawn back into a criminal life.

And, it’s a family crisis: An estimated 55 percent of state prison inmates are parents, most often the absent fathers who, if they were to change their lives, could be the good example that young boys, especially, so often need.

That’s what makes it so important to show success by a “rapid attachment to work.” The premise: Steer those released toward a job, almost any job, in the crucial first weeks when they will be tempted to return to crime.

Despite the down economy, the Prisoner Reentry Initiative started by Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker (who notes how often he’s personally approached by ex-offenders who ask for jobs more than anything else) has used a combination of federal funds and private philanthropy to place some 58 percent of the 1,051 program participants. To date, they have been placed in jobs with an hourly wage of more than $9, in construction, food service, sanitation and supermarkets, among others.

What’s more, after more than a year, only 8 percent of all participants have been rearrested. At the same time, crime in Newark has been falling steadily.

Newark is not alone. A Harvard University evaluation of New York’s Ready, Willing and Able program, which centers on public service employment and sobriety, found that “three years after prison release, RWA clients have 30 percent fewer arrests than a comparison group matched by demographics and criminal history.”

Low recidivism rates also characterized the Ready4Work program, a national employment-centered demonstration project that operated in 17 cities from 2003 through 2006. It was found to have reduced recidivism by 34 to 50 percent below national averages.

To date, however, the Second Chance Act has been unfocused, more like a grab bag of assistance — substance abuse, housing, mentoring and more. An estimated 60 percent of Second Chance’s demonstration programs were programs not focused on work. It should instead send a message to the state and local governments who will always spend the most on corrections, parole and re-entry: Put work first.
 
Howard Husock is vice president of policy research at the Manhattan Institute. This is adapted from his testimony last week before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

About The Author

Staff Report

Staff Report

Bio:
A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
Pin It
Favorite

Speaking of Op Eds

More by Staff Report

Latest in Guest Columns

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Videos

Most Popular Stories

© 2018 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation