Curbing the Cost of Crime
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