Curbing The Cost Of Crime

February 27, 2009

Curbing the Cost of Crime

peter_cove.jpgPeter Cove
Founder, America Works

Originally Posted On: California Progressive Report 2/27/09


California is embarking on the biggest prisoner release comparative only to the 1963 movie, The Great Escape. Unless overturned on appeal, California is under court order to release approximately 57,000 prisoners (one third of the total population) over the next few years. How will California’s policy makers deal with this and reduce the recidivism rate at the same time? Failed programs of the past, ineffective parole, a plethora of social and drug treatment programs and a continuation of a 70% re-incarceration rate within 3 years after release are not the answer. The answer lies in a successful reentry program in Oakland.

In response to rising crime and violence, Oakland voters passed the Violence Prevention and Public Safety Act of 2004 (Measure Y). Measure Y is a 10-year initiative designed to facilitate community policing, foster violence prevention, improve fire and paramedic service, and initiate new programs to move parolees and probationers into jobs. The rest of California can learn from Oakland’s experience that quick attachment to the labor market reduces the recidivism rate. Here are some results.

The innovative program by America Works costs only $4,000 to get a person a job, which is paid only when the parolee keeps the job for 6 months. In the first year of operation, the recidivism rate is only 6%. Compare this to the fact that each year 39% of prisoners released statewide return to prison. For example, if you took 20,000 prisoners incarcerated for one year, then released, and 39% violated their parole and returned to prison for another year, it would cost California over $1 billion just for incarceration (not parole, probation, court fees etc.).

However, if all 20,000 prisoners upon release from prison were put into the Oakland program, and only 6% were re-incarcerated, it would cost California only $123.2 million. Thus, by using this program, California could save a whopping $877.6 million for every 20,000 prisoners. Now imagine the cost savings if direct job placement and retention was provided to all 156,000 California State prisoners.

Similar results are being replicated in New York City and Newark, NJ where America Works, is operating prisoner to work programs for Mayors Bloomberg and Booker. These programs succeed because felons leaving jail or on probation were ‘captured’ immediately and enrolled in activities that both prepare them for work and keep them off the streets. These work strategies are effective, and benefits society because they get the people into work very quickly, while employing social services to assist in retention. As with welfare reform, work first works best. Social services must be employed to support work first, not precede it.

Prison to work programs will result in California reducing the recidivism rate, by helping people returning home to lead productive and law-abiding lives, while at the same time reducing public costs. During this time of economic and fiscal crises, will lawmakers take heed? This may be just the opportunity for California’s legislators to rethink public expenditures for reducing crime; just look to Oakland for answers.

Peter Cove is Founder of America Works, a company that gets ex-offenders and other hard to place workers jobs.

Posted on February 27, 2009


February 26, 2009

We Believe America Works

February 26, 2009



Welcome to America Works   Founded by Peter Cove where magic is created helping the unemployed get jobs.  Drawing by Alan Zwiebel.  america-works1

Before unraveling welfare reform, appreciate why it worked

February 25, 2009

Our economic tsunami could drown the historic reforms made in welfare over the past 13 years.

We must not let that happen.

The shovel-ready arguments voiced by many in the left wing of the Democratic Party go like this: We are in a recession, people are hurting, and jobs are not there for welfare recipients – so loosening strings on government entitlements is the answer. A New York Times editorial of Feb. 9 says “welfare programs should be expanding” and bemoans the fact that “the number of people receiving cash assistance is at or near a four-decade low.”

Indeed, those intent on driving the welfare rolls back up scored a big victory in President Obama‘s stimulus bill, which contains two provisions that have the potential to discourage work. First, it gives states that increase their caseloads more money, which creates an incentive to let more people onto the dole. Second, it relieves states of the “work activity” obligations for food stamps they otherwise would incur because of rising caseloads. Since New York City has an aggressive workfare program, it is turning down some of that food stamp cash – and instead keeping in place stricter rules that require able-bodied welfare recipients to work to continue to receive the benefit.

Advocates are crying foul. They insist government help is needed now, and city government’s work requirements are onerous and unfair.

This calls for a quick history lesson. Though almost all agree that welfare reform, which resulted in the greatest reduction in welfare dependency in the nation’s history, was a major success, few seem to recall why it worked. We’d better remember if we’re going to stop thousands of families from slipping into dependency during the current crisis.

First, contrary to the assumptions of so many – and the doom-and-gloom predictions that welfare recipients would wind up unemployed and sleeping on the streets en masse – we have consistently discovered that jobs, in fact, are available for people trying to get off public assistance. In any economy, even this one, there is churn in the labor market. People resign, are fired or die. When that happens, jobs open up.

According to the city’s Human Resources Administration, the city’s welfare program has not seen a falling off in its ability to place welfare recipients into employment – not even during the national recession that started more than a year ago.

In fact, last year, a little over 85,000 New Yorkers reached the point of losing their cash grant due to time limits imposed by federal law. In that year, the HRA, responsible for welfare in the city, placed over 80,000 people – up slightly from 2007.

Second, welfare reform worked and still works today because most people on welfare want to work, can work – and are welcomed by the private sector as good employees. Twelve years of dramatically reduced caseloads put the lie to the myth that they prefer a government benefit to a low wage, can’t work due to infirmity or lack of education or are excluded from jobs by the private sector’s prejudice.

Third, work is therapy and it socializes. There are huge benefits that accrue to families and society when previously dependent people hold down a job. Children fare better in school and are less prone to social deviance. Mental health of the wage earner improves, and, frequently, family reunification occurs.

Whatever anti-poverty advocates say, no matter how intently they want to turn back the clock on reform, our economy can and must keep moving low-income people from dependency to work. We cannot risk a return to the “come and get it” policies once promoted most famously here in New York City.

Yes, there will always be those deserving and helpless who require government assistance. The states have those resources through block grants from the federal government.

But it would be a tragedy to use the new economic downturn to return to old, failed policies that disastrously marginalized so many.

Cove is the founder of America Works, a company that places hard-to-place people into work.

Hello America!

February 25, 2009

Welcome to the official blog of America Works! We hope you enjoy our new blog.