Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reentry Chaos

In an attempt to bring some order to a failing reentry system, cities are taking the lead and as reported by the Manhattan Institute, some small successes are being seen, and, in one case, the focus on immediate employment will help some prisoners who are not committed criminals.

It is committed criminals who commit the highest proportion of crimes and consequently, represent the most important social locus for rehabilitative success.

An excerpt.

“More than 700,000 prisoners will be released in the United States this year. Tragically, some two-thirds will wind up back behind bars. Improving on that record is of crucial importance, especially to cities and the mayors who lead them. The numbers are telling. Nearly 40,000 people are released to Philadelphia annually from federal and state prisons or local jails. At any given time, approximately 12,500 parolees are under mandatory supervision in Baltimore. Dallas handles the release of 400-600 newly-released prisoners every month.

“This wave of returning ex-offenders is a long-brewing side effect of the stepped-up law enforcement and tougher drug laws of the 1980s—imaginative reforms which helped bring down crime rates and contributed to the rebirth of cities such as New York.

“Today, the challenge has changed: returning ex-offenders need the right assistance—and incentives—to avoid returning to lives of crime.

“Cities are often expected to take on that job. In Newark, NJ, for instance, it is not unusual for ex-offenders to walk right in to city hall looking for help. Finding a job is almost always at the top of the list.

“But cities typically have neither an independent agency with a mandate to handle prisoner reentry nor a budget to support such efforts. That's a symptom of a larger problem. In contrast with most government functions—from public health to public assistance—there is no one agency charged with, and accountable for, the job of helping ex-offenders become successful, law-abiding citizens. State corrections departments' authority and interest extends only as far as the prison gate. Parole and probation systems devote many of their resources to identifying new offenses (or technical violations) and returning those in their charge to jail. Police departments understandably focus on arresting law-breakers, not working with other agencies to share information about parolees. Social service providers operating under state or county contracts are frequently evaluated by the quantity of services they provide, rather than whether the cases they manage result in positive outcomes. No one part of government ever seems to be in charge.

“Increasingly, in cities like Newark, Jacksonville, and Chicago, mayors and municipal leaders, knowing that their cities are at risk if the reentry problem is not addressed, are taking steps to organize this disjointed non-system and to hold accountable those who are supposed to be steering former prisoners toward constructive lives. At the heart of this effort is the same strategy that made welfare reform effective in the 1990s: a focus on employment.”