San Francisco understands what is necessary in order to lower recidivism and prison overcrowding. Unlike many probation departments and prison systems, San Francisco’s counselors look to what is needed for a released inmate in terms of housing, employment, health care, and drug rehabilitation. The probation department has even picked up returning citizens from prisons to bring back to their homes in San Francisco.
San Francisco was confronted about 18 years ago with a court order regarding prison overcrowding, similar to the federal order presently facing the state of California. Instead of continuing to incarcerate as many inmates as possible, through the efforts of a local prosecutor, Paul Henderson, the city focused on turning an ex-offender into a productive member of society. This goal of re-integration for the returning citizens required judges, prosecutors, probation officers, and law enforcement to work with social workers, nonprofit advocates, and public defenders.
San Francisco realized that long prison sentences were not a deterrent to crime. If long sentences were effective, then California would not have the problem of excessive prison overcrowding. Barry Krisberg, senior fellow at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law noted that, “Everything we know from the most rigorous research suggests if you want to reduce recidivism rates, you have to address housing, security, availability of jobs, and social connections.” A substantial number of inmates are incarcerated for non-violent crimes and they have the best chance for reintegration into society if they receive appropriate assistance.
It is not rocket science. We do not need further studies to prove that a released inmate who is employed, has safe housing, and is enrolled in the appropriate rehabilitation program, is unlikely to become another number in the high recidivism rate. With such programs for reintegration, society will benefit from a lower crime rate, fewer prisons, reduced social costs, and more productive citizens.
By Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com