Crime Recidivism in U.S.
My name is Derek Jones, and I am Secretary Clinton’s chief of staff for her upcoming election campaign against Jeb Bush. The Secretary is looking for a few hot button issues to try to gain voter’s attention in the next election. Sec. Clinton believes that her chances for election will be enhanced if we can be ready with policies that will convince voters that she is the right person for the job. As a life long Democrat, Hillary fan, and criminal justice expert, we are asking you to help the cause. We think that a significant issue is the re-entry of prisoners back into their community.
Because of America’s two decade long imprisonment boom, more than 500,000 inmates are now being released back into the community each year. In New York City alone, the New York State Department of Correctional Services releases approximately 25,000 people a year and the New York City jail system releases almost 100,000. In the State of California, more than 125,000 prisoners are released each year, almost ten times the number of releases only 20 years earlier
There are a number of unfortunate collateral consequences of releasing people back into the community, many of whom have not received adequate treatment and are unprepared for life in conventional society. The risks they present to the community include increases in child abuse, family violence, the spread of infectious diseases, homelessness, and community disorganization
Reentry risks have increased can be tied to legal change in the way people are released from prison. In the past, offenders were granted early release only if a parole board believed they were rehabilitated and had ties to the community–such as a family or a job. Inmates were encouraged to enter treatment programs to earn parole. Changes in national sentencing laws have resulted in the growth of mandatory release and the limits on discretionary parole. People now serve a fixed sentence and the discretion of parole boards has been blunted. Inmates may be discouraged from seeking involvement in rehabilitation programs (they do not influence the chance of parole) and the lack of incentive means that fewer inmates leaving prison having participated in programs to address work, education, and substance use deficiencies. For example, only 13 percent inmates who suffer addiction receive any kind of drug abuse treatment in prison. Nor does the situation improve upon release. Many inmates are not assigned to supervision caseloads once released into the community; about 100,000 released inmates go unsupervised each year.
Once back in the community, offenders may increase their criminal activity because they want to make up for “lost time” and resume their criminal careers. The majority leave prison with no savings, no immediate entitlement to unemployment benefits, and few employment prospects. One year after release, as many as 60 percent of former inmates are not employed in the regular labor market, and there is increasing reluctance among employers to hire ex-offenders. Unemployment is closely related to drug and alcohol abuse. Losing a job can lead to substance abuse, which in turn is related to child and family violence. Mothers released from prison have difficulty finding services such as housing, employment, and childcare, and this causes stress for them and their children. Children of incarcerated and released parents often suffer confusion, sadness, and social stigma, and these feelings often result in school-related difficulties, low self-esteem, aggressive behavior, and general emotional dysfunction. If the parents are negative role models, children fail to develop positive attitudes about work and responsibility. Children of incarcerated parents are five times more likely to serve time in prison than are children whose parents are not incarcerated
Prisoners have significantly more medical and mental health problems than the general population, due to lifestyles that often include crowded or itinerant living conditions, intravenous drug use, poverty, and high rates of substance abuse. Inmates with mental illness (about 16 percent of all inmates) also are increasingly being imprisoned–and being released. Even when public mental health services are available, many mentally ill individuals fail to use them because they fear institutionalization, deny they are mentally ill, or distrust the mental health system. The situation will become more serious as more and more parolees are released back into the disorganized communities whose deteriorated conditions may have motivated their original crimes.
Fear of a prison stay has less of an impact on behavior than ever before. The negative impact of incarceration may be lessening because so many people have already been incarcerated. In neighborhoods where “doing time” is more a rule than the exception, it becomes less of a stigma and more of a badge of acceptance. It also becomes a way of life from which some ex-convicts do rebound. Teens may encounter older men who have gone to prison and have returned to begin their lives again. With the proper skills and survival techniques, prison is considered “manageable”. While a prison stay is still unpleasant it has lost its aura of shame and fear. By becoming commonplace and mundane, the “myth” and fear of the prison experience has been exposed and its deterrent power reduced.
When there were only a few hundred thousand prisoners, and a few thousand releasees per year, the issues surrounding the release of offenders did not overly challenge communities. Families could house ex-inmates, job-search organizations could find them jobs, and community social service agencies could respond to their individual needs for mental health or substance abuse treatment. Today, the sheer number of re-entering inmates has taxed the communities to which they are returning. Research now shows that crime rates increase markedly one year after large numbers of inmates are released into the community. Ironically, high rates of prison admissions produce high crime rates. Clearly the national policy of relying on prison as a deterrent to crime may produce results that policy makers had not expected nor wanted.
The Secretary would like you to come up with what she wants to call “The 5 -step Re-entry Plan to Reduce Recidivism”. The five point plan must contain at least five ideas to reduce recidivism and it is important to back up these ideas with hard data and facts. She needs specific citation on where you got your ideas in order to make sure they are not merely pie in the sky. Are there programs out there that work and if not can you suggest some that might do the job. The secretary wants it to be a key element of her domestic agenda. Do you believe that something can be done to improve the re-entry process what specific programs, policies, laws, or practices would you recommend to get the job done?