With states facing the two-headed monster of budget cuts and crowded prisons, many are choosing to release prisoners early, raising concerns over recidivism from both a public safety and a budget perspective. States after all don’t truly realize budget cuts if early-release parolees simply return to prison.
Colorado may have an answer, however. The state’s Department of Corrections (CDOC) has been supplementing early release with free medication for mentally ill offenders to provide the stability they need to stay out of jail. In the two years of its existence, the medication assistance program has drastically lowered recidivism amongst participants.
Good thing, too, because Colorado will be releasing 15% of its prisoners early due to budget woes.
The Parole Pilot Program was approved in 2000 in an effort to bolster aftercare for offenders. Both newly-released inmates and parolees who have broken terms of their parole are provided free medication upon their arrivals to either community corrections facilities or halfway homes. Considering past decades’ declining number of beds in mental health wards, prisons have increasingly housed an exaggerated percentage of the mentally ill.
Colorado’s 2-year-old drug aid program is the result of a decade’s work on alleviating the overrepresentation of the mentally ill amongst the incarcerated. In 1999, Colorado state legislature approved a 19-member task force to research possible solutions; the task force approved the funding and implementation of two programs, one of which was the Parole Pilot Program. The program was finally ready for implementation in 2007.
Over 200 inmates have participated in the CDOC-run program to date. Of the 61 participants receiving psychotropic medications at their community corrections homes, only 2 have recidivated. The original budget for the Parole Pilot Program was $1.3 million; it has since been trimmed to $171,000 due to budget cuts. However, when compared to CDOC’s $760 million budget (and Colorado’s $318 million deficit), programs that minimize recidivism — and hopefully, eventually, criminality — are a real money-saver.