The Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice was convened by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to conduct a five year study and report, on a yearly basis, its findings and recommendations concerning the criminal and juvenile justice system. The first year is dedicated to reducing recidivism and curbing the costs of corrections.
These issues were given first priority because they are the most critical to enhancing public safety. According to Colorado State Public Defender Douglas K. Wilson, it’s simply not enough to incarcerate people for five to ten years and then let them go. If they aren’t given an alternative to the life style of crime they had before, they will invariably pick up where they left off when they are released.
“What the community seems to have forgotten is that most guys are coming out,” says Wilson. “So you better start working with them as they’re going in to make sure that they don’t go back in, because we cannot continue to pay $30,387 a year per inmate to keep people in prison.
In their report, the commision recommend 66 changes to the judicial system and DOC’s business practices and work processes that are designed to improve the transition from prison to society for ex-offenders and maximize the chances of their success. Eight of these deal specifically with giving them the opportunity to learn a new skill, which includes job training and community college classes while they are still in prison and job placement assistance when they get out.
One might wonder why Colorado taxpayers should pay to educate, and then give jobs to, a group of deviants whom were recently incarcerated for committing crimes against a society they now wish to rejoin.
One reason is it’s simply less expensive in the long run to do business this way. Studies by the commission have shown that strong ties to employment and family reduce recidivism considerably. Less recidivism means less people going back to prison, and less that has to be spent on corrections. It also creates a larger work force, which creates more commerce and a healthier economy.
A more important reason is safety to the community. A well-known adage between convicts is that the only thing they learned in prison was how to be a better criminal. And, as stated earlier, sooner or later, they’re coming out. Do we want an institutionalized thug whose primary concern is who their next victim is? Or do we want someone who is anxious to start a new career and become a productive member of society?
“You can’t look at re-entry from the day the guy gets out,” says Wilson. “You got to look at re-entry the day before the guy goes in. And that’s when re-entry should start. If somebody’s going in, you should start working with them at that point with the idea of a successful reintegration into society.”