On Tuesday, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced the formation of a council to study ways that non-profit, governmental and faith-based organizations can better work together to help former felons rebuild their lives.
The governor was also smart to link his executive order to public safety. Too often people dismiss such efforts as undeserved help for those who have broken the law, when in fact, from an economic and social standpoint, this is really the only course of action that makes sense.
In Virginia, for example, it costs an average of $25,000/year to incarcerate an adult ( $70,000 for a juvenile.) Each year, an estimated 13,500 prisoners are released. Statistics show that 1/3 of these individuals are likely to reoffend within three years. But research also demonstrates that those who get jobs within the first few months of their release are less likely to commit a new crime. So more ex-felons productively employed means fewer committing crimes (improved safety) and/or going back to jail (more savings). You do the math.
Frankly, I feel the Virginia initiative and others being pursued in Michigan, Florida and Washington couldn’t come at a better time. With unemployment at 10 percent or higher in some regions, more offenders are being shut out from jobs because of their records. In some cases these “records” aren’t even accurate. Witness this story about the notoriously bad criminal records repository in Massachusetts. This comes on top of the well- known shortcomings of the FBI database that I wrote about here.
The bottom line? All this attention to reentry is a smart — even if it is motivated by the need to reduce spending on prisons and prison populations in general. Two years ago, Virginia began requiring that every offender should be released with a reentry plan, but as Associated Press noted here ” budget constraints and poor coordination with community resources” hindered the program. McDonnell’s Press Secretary Stacey Johnson said that the new plan will force the state to look at all the ” barriers including housing, jobs, mental health, transportation, family integration and other issues affecting reentry.”
Let’s hope Virginia does better this time.
To find out what your state is doing, check here.