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.

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