December 12, 2007

Prison Exodus

The flipside of setting new incarceration records each year—at last count, the United States had locked up 1.5 million people in state or federal prison, and 775,000 in jail for minor crimes—is that, each year, you get fresh news reports heralding "the largest exodus of prisoners in American history." Those numbers, in turn, end up swamping state re-entry programs—which are often underfunded anyway—and that means high recidivism rates, which swell the prison population even further, and so the cycle continues. Onward and upward.

Anyway, U.S. News & World Report has a nice feature story on states that are trying to break that cycle. One major obstacle: "Holding a job remains the best predictor of success for ex-cons, and employer surveys have found about 80 percent of ex-cons to be diligent, trustworthy, and dependable. Yet employers are still reluctant to hire them. They risk having employees who can be at worst violent and at best antisocial and reap few benefits in return."

States can try to address that problem through tax credits and regulations, but even that's not a sure bet—on the tax credit front, "small businesses often find the paperwork more trouble than it's worth," and it's hard to bar employers from turning down ex-convicts (New York state tries, but I'm not sure how effective that is). Then there's the difficulty of coordinating job training, housing, and so forth. But Kansas, for one, has launched several re-entry programs that have cut recidivism rate in half. So it's not at all impossible.
-- Brad Plumer 5:15 PM || ||