Has America Abandoned the Concept of Rehabilitation?

August 3, 2009

New Research Shows A Record Number of “Lifers” in Prisons

It seems that the U.S. has abandoned the concept of rehabilitating criminal offenders. Instead, states are throwing away the book by enacting tough mandatory minimum sentencing laws. To make matters worse, parole boards are apparently reluctant to grant parole even to those who are eligible.

A recent article in The New York Times highlights this situation by noting that there are more prisoners serving life sentences in the U.S. than ever before. There are reportedly 140,610 lifers amongst America’s 2.3 million prison inmates, according to the Sentencing Project, up from 34,000 in 1984.

That’s a 6,664.706 % increase in only 25 years!

The states with the most lifers are California, Alabama, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New York. California’s prison system, the largest in the nation with 170,000 inmates, has 34,164 lifers alone.

It seems that the goal of incarceration in this country is no longer rehabilitation but “lifetime isolation and incapacitation,” according to one person quoted in the article.

Although those who’ve received life terms are generally violent criminals, this is indicative of the way America now deals with all of its offenders. Even non-violent offenders can be hit with “three strikes” sentences that incarcerate them for decades.

There are ways to cope with offenders, particularly those convicted of non-violent and drug-related offenses, that will minimize the negative impact on communities while decreasing the massive expense of locking up everyone. Community supervision is an option that is too often overlooked.

New York State spends $44,000 annually to incarcerate each offender compared to a fraction of that to supervise an offender in the community on probation or parole. The cost is even higher in New York City – a whopping $59,900 to jail an offender for one year.

America Works believes that the best way to break the cycle of recidivism is to prepare ex-offenders for employment, then give them the tools they need to become self-sufficient.

Over the past nine years, we have placed approximately 20,000 ex-offenders in jobs in New York City. When newly released prisoners are referred to us, we provide them with targeted training as well as a resume, appropriate clothing, and car fare, then arrange for job interviews.

In Newark, N.J., where a similar program has been under way for just over 12 months, the recidivism rate for our participants is 2.5%. That’s a small fraction of the state-wide average of 51%, according to the “Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) Final Report” by the Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice.

Job placement programs such as this one actually benefit the state, the county, and the city. Moving ex-offenders into employment decreases the burden on expensive state programs such as welfare and food stamps while simultaneously increasing income tax revenues. But it has social benefits that aren’t easily quantified such as keeping families together and providing better nutrition to children – benefits that are easy to believe in.

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From Jail To A Job

April 8, 2009

Originally Printed In The NY Post

April 8, 2009

By Peter Cove

THE Legislature’s revamping of the Rockefeller drug laws will quickly lead to retrials — and likely to freedom — for thousands of drug criminals. Many criminal-justice experts warn of a substantial uptick in crime.

But there’s a way to minimize this. The answer lies with Mayors Bloomberg in New York City, Cory Booker in Newark and Ronald Dellums in Oakland through their Measure Y program.

The answer is not the “shovel ready” but failed programs of the past: The standard combination of parole and various social and drug-treatment programs has long produced a 70 percent re-incarceration rate within three years after release.

What makes the mayors’ re-entry program successful?

Look at the one America Works has been operating for the past three years. Upon release from prison, the formerly incarcerated are referred to America Works for direct employment. We provide them with a resume and appropriate clothing (and car fare) — and then send them straight out on job interviews.

After a month in the program, most individuals get hired. The companies get good workers, the workers get good jobs — and the government gets reduced costs for criminal justice.

In these innovative programs’ first year of operation in Oakland, for instance, the recidivism rate is less than 6 percent — when 39 percent of California prisoners released each year return to prison.

Now, it costs California $47,000 a year to house one prisoner — versus a one-time fee of only $4,000 to get a person a job, which is paid only when they keep the job for six months.

Consider: If 20,000 prisoners violate their parole and get sent back to prison, each, it would cost the state $940 million to house them for a year. However, if every released prisoner were put into this program costing only $80 million, California would save about $860 million the first year — all the cash it would have spent to keep the prisoner in jail for the rest of his sentence. The total savings add up to about $3.1 billion.

These programs succeed because felons leaving jail or just on probation are “captured” immediately and enrolled in activities that both prepare them for work and keep them off the streets. These work strategies are effective, and benefit society because they get the people into work very quickly, while employing social services to assist in retention and success. As with welfare reform, “work first” works best.

Prison-to-work programs can help cut New York’s recidivism rate while reducing public costs, by helping people returning home to lead productive and law-abiding lives.

This is a responsible, proven strategy to deal with newly released prisoners. In this time of fiscal crisis, will lawmakers take heed? Will they show the wisdom to match their rethinking of the drug laws with rethinking of rehabilitation?

All they need to do is look to the cities with the answers.

Peter Cove founded America Works, a com pany that gets ex-offenders and other hard-to- place workers jobs.


What Welfare Reform Teaches Us About Reforming Parole

April 6, 2009

peter_cove.jpgPeter Cove
Founder, America Works

Originally Posted On:  The California Progressive Report 4/6/09

Link: http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/2009/04/what_welfare_re.html

Does anyone dispute the fact that welfare caseloads fell by 60% over the last 12 years in large part because work requirements became mandatory?

Prior to the reform of welfare by Congress in 1996, entitlement to cash assistance was a right for single mothers and little was expected in return. With the passage of the welfare reform bill, equal participation in the workforce from the recipients of welfare was required. Work was introduced as the reciprocal responsibility for welfare benefits. This established a quid pro quo in welfare, which changed the game from a handout to a workout.

This change resulted in many unintended consequences having residual benefits for the children, the mothers, and the private sector. Studies have shown that the benefits far outnumbered the costs for the children whose mothers went to work. Furthermore, when working, mothers also suffered from less mental illness and depression with their self-esteem, as well, as their family income increasing.

The private sector experienced an influx of previously discarded workers willing to take vacant jobs and move up in companies that were ready to accept them. More importantly, previously dependent receivers of government assistance were now paying taxes.

As the requirement for work reshaped welfare, might it do the same for parole? The question is this: might parole be improved by mandating the same type of work requirements introduced into welfare? Few would argue that parole works well. With over 70% of prisoners released returning to prison in 3 years in California, there clearly is something amiss in the parole system. Revamping parole from its losing game, to one where work becomes the central policy for re-entry may well be the ticket to successful reform.

Such a proposal was made last year in a groundbreaking paper for The Brookings Institute written By Professor Larry Mead of NYU. In it, Professor Mead argues that to reduce recidivism the correction system must become more accountable for how its turns out its clients. The notion is for parole to become work centered, with participation in the workforce determinate of continued freedom for the parolee. Surprisingly, of those returning to prison, 67% are due to technical violations of their parole. A technical violation means, they have in some way run afoul of their parole requirements. They might have gone to another state for a day. They might have forgotten or purposely missed a meeting with their parole officer. Nonetheless, these people have not committed any new crimes. In other words, they have in the plain interpretation of the law violated their parole conditions. But, only in rare instances have they become enough of a risk to the public to warrant re-incarceration.

By requiring parolees enter the workforce as a condition of freedom the role of the parole officer would change as did that of the case manager in welfare. Prior to welfare reform, the case manager was primarily responsible for enforcing rules as to who was eligible for grants. Often, they would encourage welfare mothers to have more children in order to increase their take-home income. Sadly, case managers seldom encouraged welfare recipients to work. Their responsibilities were, in a way prior to welfare reform, no different from those of parole officers today.

They both monitor conformity to regulations. But what if parole officers saw their job as helping returning felons enter the workforce? What if showing up to work was the measure of good compliance rather than arriving at the parole officer’s office on time; a time, by the way, that almost always conflicts with keeping a full time job?

Studies have shown, the therapeutic value of work, as well as, the income earned is enormous. By reforming parolee, there would be re-incarceration for criminal offenses, but technical violations would be reduced to work violations. The benefit to society would be a precipitously drop in recidivism. In an article to come, I will look at the connection between the drop in recidivism to employment.

Peter Cove is the Founder of America Works, a national company securing work for offenders, veterans and other hard to place workers.


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

Link: http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/2009/02/curbing_the_cos.html

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