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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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