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December 2014

Rehabilitation, not Incarceration: Changing Offenders' Paths to Reentry


Posted by Andrew Serrano

Imagine being trapped in a cycle of poverty, crime, and helplessness. Imagine spending years of your life behind bars as society moves forward, then trying to catch up after your release. Every year, more Americans enter the job market, armed with increasingly expensive college degrees. These people have been immersed in the newest technology and education and don't face employment barriers due to a criminal record. Now imagine competing with these people for a job - and you don't have a high school diploma or GED.

You may have no choice but to deal drugs or commit larcenies or burglaries. You won't get rich - an estimated 97% of members of an inner-city drug trafficking organization make between five and twelve dollars an hour (adjusted for inflation), but you may be able to rent a small apartment and put food on the table for yourself and your family. The risk in dealing drugs or stealing is high, meaning chances are good that you'll be caught and put back in prison. This cycle of crime traps thousands of Americans and has colossal impacts on their families and communities.

Despite the bleakness of this pattern, extensive research has shown that there is a solution. By releasing offenders into programs like residential halfway houses and day reporting centers, we can give them the tools they need to make a successful reentry and become productive citizens. More parents will be around to raise their children. More people will be prepared to gain and retain employment. Fewer people will spend their days on the streets; involved in the drug trade, committing robberies, and abusing substances. More positive role models, particularly males who are African-American or Latino - the most incarcerated demographics, will be present in their communities.

Residential work release facilities, Alternative in the Community programs, Day Reporting Centers, and similar programs, including those run by Community Solutions, Inc., offer a variety of services delivered by trained professionals. Staff at these programs provide offenders with job coaching, motivational interviewing, employment services, drug and alcohol education, and case management, among other services. Best practices in these programs include using tools like the LSI-R (Level of Service Inventory - Revised), which explores negative behaviors and failures in an individual's life, providing staff with information to create positive interventions. Services like these not only benefit offenders and their families; they save taxpayers impressive amounts of money.

Multiple studies indicate that taxpayers spend far less on reentry services than on incarceration. From 2007-2012, the San Diego Prisoner Reentry Program slashed recidivism among 1,078 non-violent offenders by 17%, resulting in savings of $10 million ($9,276 per offender) over the five-year period. In this program, offenders received individualized services including case management, motivational interviewing, and substance abuse treatment.

According to a study released in August 2013 by New York City's Independent Budget Office, the city paid $167,731 to feed, house, and guard each inmate in 2012. Nationwide costs are lower, but still staggering. A 2012 study released by the Vera Institute of Justice found that the aggregate cost of prisons in 2010 in the 40 states that participated was $39 billion, with an annual average cost of $31,286 per inmate. This figure is estimated to reach $50,000-60,000 in states like California, New York and Connecticut.

While more difficult to gauge, indications are that reentry programs will yield longer-term financial benefits as well. As more people stay out of prison, they will cost taxpayers less money while contributing themselves. More parents, friends, and family members will be available to raise and mentor children. Studies show that youths with incarcerated parents are more likely to drop out of school and commit crime. By giving their parents the resources to live crime-free, potentially affected children will perform better in school and be less likely to commit crimes themselves. This is a stark contrast to the harmful cycle of long prison sentences and ineffective reintegration tactics.

While many offenders have proven dangerous to society and require more harsh penalties and interventions, the majority of prisoners have committed nonviolent crimes and have great potential for rehabilitation. Data released in October 2014 by the Federal Bureau of Prisons showed that 68.7% of federal inmates were convicted of nonviolent crimes. Many of these offenders are economically disadvantaged and lack the education, skills, and resources needed to provide for themselves and their families.

Effective reentry programs require support in many areas. Please consider helping, whether through donations, voting, furthering awareness, or volunteering. Reentry programs provide cost-effective services that change lives, benefit families, and enhance communities.

To learn more about Community Solutions, Inc.'s adult reentry services, visit http://csi-online.org/adult_services/.