Spurred by concerns about crime rates ticking upward in some cities and incarceration costs that have spiraled out of control, communities are taking steps as basic as making sure parolees have valid state identification cards and as innovative as offering tax credits to businesses that hire ex-offenders to help them get back on their feet.
Heightening the need for such efforts is action this week by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that gives nearly 20,000 people in federal prisons for crack cocaine offenses a chance to apply for early release under new sentencing guidelines. An estimated 3,800 such inmates could be released in the first year.
"We are seeing really an unprecedented number of governors, state legislatures, mayors and county executives launching comprehensive prisoner re-entry initiatives," says Michael Thompson, director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a national non-partisan policy resource center. "Returns to prisons are as high as they've ever been. … And that has a huge public safety impact and cost."
The Bureau of Justice Statistics says state and federal prisons released 698,459 inmates in 2005, the most recent annual figure available. The number has been rising.
States and cities taking action:
•New Jersey next month will launch "Another Chance" to provide job training, health assistance and other services to 1,300 men and women who are newly incarcerated, within nine months of release or on parole and returning to Camden, Newark or Trenton.
•California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation in May that will create at least 32 prisoner re-entry facilities, allowing inmates to spend the last 12 months of their sentences receiving anger management training, help finding jobs and other services.
•Orlando will provide job training to ex-offenders on three public works projects, including the refurbishment of the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.
•Michigan has increased funding for its Prisoner ReEntry Initiative from to $33 million from $12 million, allowing it to expand from 15 metropolitan areas to the entire state by September 2008.USA Today