At the end of October, the justice department is releasing early 6,000 people from federal prisons. 2,000 will be deported. Those 6,000 are 3% of the federal prison population, and less than 1% of the 688,000 released from all prisons annually. Federal prisons will still be overcrowded. A prior early release program did not cause elevated recidivism - but the regular rate is 76% after five years.
This is one of many criminal justice reforms to reduce mass incarceration. Other reforms include drug courts and cutting stiff mandatory minimum sentences. But public officials have to balance reducing the costs of mass incarceration – $79 a day to keep someone locked up - with the need to reduce crime and maintain public safety.
“Prison officials and probation officers are working hard to ensure that returning offenders are adequately supervised and monitored,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. That’s important for public safety, but not sufficient for the individuals’ success.
We know what works. These individuals first need stable housing; halfway houses are a start. People need ID to get a job; federal reentry programs can help them get it. That’s better than many states and counties - but it’s not sufficient. They need to unlearn the attitudes and behaviors that kept them alive Inside. They need help with workplace skills. Most need to learn how to use computers and smartphones to find and apply for jobs, and email with recruiters. They need professional clothes to look for work. Transitional work can bridge the gap between institutionalization and independent living, which requires independent thinking. They need healthcare like anyone else. We know that coordinated physical, emotional, and spiritual support works. Miami-Dade County was able to close a jail, saving $12m a year. They did it by taking care of their repeat offenders with mental health issues, matching treatment with support and accountability.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDHrnqtBvSs (see especially 25 mins in).
But what happens if the 4,000 fail? Any reporter investigating a crime will sure check how a re-offender was released. If they discover the person was released early, there will be calls for an end to “soft on crime” policies. There will be calls for further tightening, based on (false) claims of “rising crime” and “failed policies.” Let’s not forget, fear not only sells media, it also gets politicians elected. Reformers of the left and right, east and west, should be motivated to see these individuals succeed.
If these individuals fail, criminal justice reform will be jeopardized. We can’t afford that price tag, financial or human. What is your community doing to ensure people can reform as well as policies?