For the first time in a modern presidential election, candidates from both parties are talking about our “Mass Incarceration Crisis.”Before this upcoming election, candidates usually ignored this epidemic that has infected our country for several decades. The candidates looked away because they knew that convicted felons did not vote and that most Americans did not care about prisons and inmates.
Today, most Americans are aware that the United States has 25% of the world’s inmates despite having only 5% of the world’s population. This alarming statistic means that approximately 7 million Americans are incarcerated, paroled, or on probation. Almost 2.3 million adults in 2011 were locked up in federal, state, and county prisons and jails. In most states, it costs more to imprison an individual for a year than send a student to college for two semesters. Because many Americans are finally concerned about our broken system of justice–politicians like you, presidential candidates, are finally talking about this national tragedy and some of you are looking for solutions.
Ignore the argument that increased incarceration lowers the crime rate. In 2012, New York reduced its prison population by 26% from its high in 1999 and New York’s total crime rate declined 28%. Between 2007–2012, Texas reduced its inmate population by 9% and its total crime rate dropped 16%.
There are solutions to alleviating mass incarceration. You need to stop locking up individuals with mental illnesses, who have committed nonviolent crimes. The mentally ill need appropriate medical care in their local communities and not imprisonment.
Many inmates were convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. They need effective drug treatment programs in their local communities instead of jail and/or prison.
I recommend that all presidential candidates study the three R’s: Rehabilitation, Re-Entry, and Recidivism. If you have inadequate rehabilitation in our prisons and jails, you will continue to have high recidivism rates. If you do not have effective re-entry programs, you will maintain high recidivism rates. One study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2005 that tracked 404,638 released inmates in 30 states revealed the following:
- Within three years of release, about two-thirds (67.8 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested.
- Within five years of release, about three-quarters (76.6 percent) of released prisoners were rearrested.
- Of those prisoners who were rearrested, more than half (56.7 percent) were arrested by the end of the first year.
Returning citizens need a safe and stable place to stay upon their release from incarceration. Returning citizens have many obstacles; some have drug and alcohol addictions, twenty-five percent have mental health issues, most are not educated, and their criminal record will substantially reduce their chances for any employment. In some states, the unemployment rate for released inmates is 50 percent.
As presidential candidates, you all should study successful examples of re-entry programs. For example, Michigan was spending $35,000 a year to incarcerate an individual. Six years ago, the state decided to focus on the problems of re-entry. Michigan has saved more than $200 million annually by implementing aggressive job placement programs. Robert Satterfield, a 46 year old Michigan resident was imprisoned for almost six years for embezzlement. For months, he was unable to find employment. A successful re-entry program, 70Times 7, gave him guidance and training. The program found a job for him with a local metalworking company. During a 16 month period, he received several raises, and was earning $13.00 an hour. The company owner stated that he has six former inmates employed and they were among his best employees.
To sum it up for all of you, our presidential candidates—effective rehabilitation and re-entry programs will reduce our deplorable recidivism rates and create a better society for all.
Founder of prisonpath.com