Tag Archives: Pew Center for the States

More on justice reform: which ex-offenders need the most help?

As expected, Senator James Webb (D-Va), reintroduced his bill on criminal justice reform on Tuesday. The National Criminal Justice Commission Act,  first drafted two years ago, would set up a bipartisan group  to conduct an 18-month review of the U.S. criminal justice system and offer concrete recommendations on what needs to be done to fix it.

The bill was passed by the House last year, but held up in the Senate  over concerns about how it would be financed. In an interview last week, Webb’s spokesman Will Jenkins said the Senator ” never wavered in his commitment to reform and was determined to press on this year.”  The fact that Webb  has several Republican co-sponsors, Jenkins added, “has opened the door for compromise.”

Will he get it?  Conservatives have recently embraced justice reform, most notably through Right on Crime, an organization pushing for fiscally responsible change  at the local and state levels. Their goal is to recalibrate an incarceration-heavy system that has led to diminishing returns in terms of safety and effectiveness.  Mark Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a signatory for Right on Crime, said there are good things about Webb’s bill and that he believes the commission could be financed  using current corrections funding.  ” I’d hate to see the proposal held up over costs,” he added.

Beware, the pressure for quick fixes

Still, its passage will likely come down to whether legislators have the patience for a detailed review or feel the need to  press for more immediate reforms.  To that end,  a newly released report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, provides a preview of where they might start.  The report, which grew out of a 2009 request by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va) to hold a summit on proven ways to both serve justice and reduce crime and recidivism, offers a useful summary of what works and what doesn’t.

The report takes on a state system that costs more than $50 billion annually.   Apparently, only Medicaid increased faster as a proportion of total state budgets.  Meanwhile correction spending grew at nearly three times the rate of spending on higher education. At the same time, the authors caution that pushing fiscal auterity alone will lead to ill-advised policy decisions. Already they note:

Although many states and localities have made successful strides in prisoner reentry, elected officials in a growing number of jurisdictions are finding budget pressures and other conditions make it practically impossible to finance, on a large scale, strategies necessary to make someone’s transition from prison to the community safe and successful.  

Scary.  Especially considering how cursory so many reentry efforts are right now.

Where should the funding go?

So how to make avoid making ill-advised funding decisions while paring costs?  The report suggests four areas where funds and energies should be targeted (read “justice reinvestment”) to get the most bang for the buck.

  1.  Focus should be on people most likely to reoffend.
  2. Programs should be based on scientific evidence and have measurable outcomes.
  3. Efforts should be made to improve community supervision.
  4. Place-based strategies should be emphasized.

Yes,  such a reallocation of resources will result in some people falling through the cracks.  Ex-offenders with lesser crimes, for example, may lose out on some access to programs and services to aid in their reentry.  But the authors also provides evidence that directing efforts to those individuals most likely to commit a new crime will be more beneficial in terms of reducing the crime rate and improving public safety.

At any rate, the report provides a  useful summary of current thinking and programs, so  it’s  well worth checking out if you haven’t already.

Some other highlights:

  • Drug treatment in the community is  more effective than while in  prison.
  • Prison education programs work, (yeah!), but  community based programs have more an impact on recidivism rates than those based in prison.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy that is action-oriented is the more successful in changing behavior and reducing recidivism than fear tactics and emotional appeals, talk therapy or other client-centered approaches.
  • Focusing services, resources and attention to certain high crime areas will have a bigger payoff in terms of reducing crime and recidivism.  Probation and other reentry service offices located in where the individuals live have been found to be more effective.

Readers, what are your feelings on reform?  What do you expect to happen?

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under addiction and recovery, alternatives to incarceration, prison reform, reentry

Hope for ex-offenders: increased focus on justice reform puts spotlight on reentry

It’s unlikely that it made any of  the 2011 trend lists.  But it should have:

What’s Out : Being tough on crime by throwing people in prison.                                             

What’s In:   Being smart about crime by putting serious offenders behind bars and finding alternative and more cost effective punishments for nonviolent offenders.

It’s true.  For the first time in more than thirty years, we’ve got both the left and the right calling for a more sensible way to deal with crime in the U.S.   Two years after Senator James Webb,D-VA  became the lone wolf decrying the nonsense of the U.S. imprisoning people at a rate five times the world’s average, even conservatives have embraced the need to do something to repair a costly and ineffective system that doesn’t make us any safer.

I’ll admit I was a little skeptical when I first started reading about  Right on Crime, the conservative organization backed by such Republican luminaries as Newt Gingrich, William Bennett and Grover Norquist.   After reading their proposals, however, I’m encouraged that a platform being advanced by the folks who usually campaign to lock up lawbreakers no matter the cost, may actually lead to some real change.   For one, they make no bones about laying out what the problem is and how we got to our current state of diminishing returns:

Under the incarceration-focused solution, societies were safer to the extent that dangerous people were incapacitated, but when offenders emerged from prison – with no job prospects, unresolved drug and mental health problems, and diminished connections to their families and communities – they were prone to return to crime.

All of this, is of course, true, and something that most people can agree on regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum.  Obviously, the reason we’re looking at it now is primarily budgetary.  It’s just too expensive to put so many people in prison.  But if that can spur reform, I’ll take it.

One of the provisions I’m most intrigued about is the conservatives desire to deal with the whole issue of negligent hiring suits, which make so many employers reluctant to hire parolees.   Reducing the potential risk of such lawsuits could  go a long way towards bringing down recidivism, since people with jobs are less likely to commit new crimes.   The challenge is to see whether this will change how employers behave in a labor market with double-digit unemployment.  

In two recent New York Times opinion pieces, author Tina Rosenberg also emphasized that” prisoner re-entry has become a hot topic in the field of corrections, largely because of the increasing number of people being released (many as states cut back on budgets).  She also did a great job of describing the challenges faced by returnees and describing the patchwork nature of reentry programs — highlighting a few like the renowned Delancey Street residence in San Francisco and Fortune Society’s Fortune Academy (known as “The Castle”), which work.  There’s also a piece here citing programs in states like Michigan, that have been successful in helping ex-inmates find jobs. 

What do you think is going to happen in terms of criminal justice reform?   Earlier this month, Senator Webb and The Prison Fellowship sponsored a symposium at George Mason on “Undoing the Effects of Mass Incarceration.”  The State of Louisiana recently announced it’s going to take the plunge to reform it’s prison system.  Will this all be a lot of talk or will/can the country follow suit?

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Filed under alternatives to incarceration, companies hiring ex-offenders, hope for ex-offenders, prison reform, probation and parole, reentry, Uncategorized