Monday, January 24, 2011

Criminal-Run Reentry Programs

Two historic reformed-criminal developed and managed reentry programs—which unfortunately have never been rigorously evaluated to determine their actual effectiveness—are profiled by the New York Times.

An excerpt.

“This year, the United States will release nearly three-quarters of a million people from prison, a record high. Nationally, 2.3 million people are in prison in the United States, and 95 percent of them will, at some point, get out and go home.

“Society has a strong interest in keeping them home — in helping them to become law-abiding citizens instead of falling back into their old ways and returning to prison. But American programs for newly released prisoners echo the typical follies of our criminal justice system: our politicians usually believe that voters only want the emotional satisfactions of meting out maximum punishment, even if these policies lead to even more crime.

“The usual package granted to someone released from prison in New York state is $40, a bus ticket and the considerable stigma that follows an ex-offender. Since prisoners are often held far away from their families and states charge astronomical rates for prison phone calls, prisoners often lose touch with their loved ones and may not have anyone to take them in when they get home. They may arrive in their home cities with no plans, other than — worrisomely — those hatched with fellow prisoners. They have little prospect for jobs or housing. Since many don’t get effective drug treatment in prison, they might still crave a fix, which costs money. It is little wonder that some former prisoners fall back into crime within hours or days….

“In West Harlem there is a large and beautiful Gothic building overlooking the Hudson River. It is called the Fortune Academy, but it is known to all as the Castle. It is owned by the Fortune Society, a group dedicated to helping returning prisoners succeed with starting new lives. The Fortune Society helps about 4,000 newly released prisoners each year with job training and placement, drug treatment, classes in cooking and anger management and being a father, and G.E.D. studies.

“Most of the people who work at Fortune were once themselves drug addicted, homeless or imprisoned. This is important. “The clients can look at the staff and say, ‘a few years ago, that person was where I am,’” said Glenn E. Martin, Fortune’s vice president of development and public affairs. (He himself served six years in prison, and was released nine years ago.) The staff can also see past appearances: “Some others may see a guy with his pants pulled down and his hat on, yelling, and say ‘he’s not ready,’ ” said Martin. “But we’ll talk to him.” The credibility and understanding produced by having a staff of former offenders is important. But about 300 of Fortune’s clients each year get something more: a bed in the Castle, and the chance to start a law-abiding life in the company of other people trying to do the same.’’’

Delancey Street, in San Francisco, is a very different community with the same purpose. People come to live at the Delancey Street residential building for an average of four years. Each resident is required to get at least a high school equivalency degree and learn several marketable job skills, such as furniture making, sales or accounting. The organization is completely run by its residents, who teach each other — there is no paid staff at all. Teaching others is part of the rehabilitation process for Delancey residents. The residence is financed in part by private donations, but the majority of its financing comes from the businesses the residents run, such as restaurants, event planning, a corporate car service, a moving company and framing shop. All money earned goes to the collective, which pays all its residents’ expenses.”