Few issues are as controversial as mass incarceration and the need for prison reform. Politicians, community leaders, and society at large are quick to ignore this unappealing and misunderstood population. The cyclical nature of crime in general is that criminal behavior can be driven by environmental factors, which are repeated and even encouraged in the penal system.
Criminals are released back into society at the end of their sentences but have not been given the necessary skills, behaviors, or coping mechanisms to effectively reestablish themselves. The recidivism rate supports the theory that serious prison reform is needed. Successful reform efforts will benefit more than just prisoners and ex-offenders, and the results are often long lasting.
Programs for Prisoners
Prison reform really begins with sentence reform. Non-violent and first time offenders may not require a term of imprisonment. Punitive sentences do not serve a valuable purpose and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. On the other side of the spectrum, those offenders whose crimes do warrant a necessary term of imprisonment should be offered relevant programs to be completed during their period of incarceration. Educational and vocational programming, coupled with mental health and substance abuse counseling, are vital components to effective prison reform.
Support During Re-Entry
The transition from prison to society can be daunting and almost insurmountable for many ex-offenders. Funding for re-entry programs can be used to establish assistance with common challenges such as obtaining identification documents, housing, and employment.
Ex-offenders who obtain a driver’s license or state identification and Social Security card before release or within thirty days of release are much more likely to find gainful employment and avoid a return to criminal activity. Those who are given an opportunity to obtain further education are even less likely to revert back to their criminal behaviors.
Benefits to Employers
Background-friendly employers are eligible to receive multiple benefits when they hire ex-offenders. Federal bonding programs insure against loss or theft from a bonded employee, so there is very limited risk for employers. Work opportunity tax credits for ex-offenders and others reentering the workforce offer thousands of dollars in rebates for employers who are willing to give a second chance.
Most reentering prisoners are required to maintain employment and are monitored through a local probation officer as well. Parolees are loyal employees because they are often thankful for the opportunity and also are required to keep gainful employment. This is a win-win for all parties.