National studies have shown that the average recidivism rates (re-offense rates) for citizens returning from prison is sixty-seven percent.That’s an alarmingly high number and clear evidence that the industrial prison complex’s methods of rehabilitation do not work. If prison is meant as a deterrent to crime, it’s not working for the majority of returning citizens. Instead, prisoners are released into the same or worse conditions that they lived in before prison, often having had criminal mindsets reinforced by years in prison surrounded by other criminally-minded people. Rather than deterring crime, prison has become simply a warehouse to temporarily separate problem citizens from the rest of society. Nevertheless, hidden in this atrocious statistic of recidivism is a sprinkling of hope, for thirty-three percent of returning citizens successfully stay out of prison.
So, what separates the sixty-seven from the thirty-three percent, and what does it take to be part of this successful thirty-three? While no one thing can guarantee a returning citizen’s membership in the thirty-three, as it turns out, several factors increase one’s likelihood of success upon release from prison, including:
1. Strong family and community support.
Some people enter prison with little to no family or community support. Others lose much of their support while in prison. Policies and practices used by the prison industrial complex, including burdensome phone rates and excessively restrictive mail and visiting policies, have made it difficult for prisoners to maintain healthy family and community relationships. Nevertheless, prisoners who make it a priority to keep healthy relationships with others on the outside are often the most successful upon release.
2. Education and moral formation.
Prisoners who commit to reforming their thinking and behaviors are often the least likely to return to prison. These prisoners recognize the importance of education in broadening their thinking, and the necessity of reforming their moral compass so it is pro-social.
3. A serious commitment to sobriety.
So many prisoners have life-long struggles with addiction. Taking a couple of classes in prison, or even resolving to quit an addiction rarely works. What does work for some is addressing the underlying trauma that often leads to addiction, establishing and maintaining a strong sponsor relationship, and doing the difficult work of honest self-assessment required for a relapse prevention plan.
4. A change in location.
Too many prisoners return to the same communities, with the same difficulties and unhealthy relationships they had before prison. The Department of Correction’s policies that make it difficult to parole to a different county only reinforce the likelihood of re-offense for many prisoners. To parole to a different county, prisoners must have a job and housing already established in another county. This is often difficult for many prisoners who have no healthy community connections.
5. A job.
For many prisoners, having a job upon release is essential for success. Many returning citizens find it difficult to transition back into society, and most have very little to return to. The stability and financial security of a job makes it easier to say “no” to the many temptations many prisoners face to chase “easy money.” Successfully landing and keeping a job reinforces to many returning citizens their worth to themselves, their families, and their communities.
If states want to significantly reduce their recidivism rates and lower their prison populations, they must develop policies and programs that increase the likelihood that each prisoner will experience the above factors. Additionally, states (and the federal government) must begin to seriously address the systemic issues that often lead to crime, including inter-generational poverty and incarceration, rampant addiction, deficient housing, failing public schools, and glorification of immorality and violence, among others. While a person’s choice to commit a crime is his or her own responsibility, if we as a nation are serious about reducing our dependency on incarceration and healing the causes of crime before crimes are committed, we must change our approach. As Albert Einstein once famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” A club of only thirty-three percent is far too low a number–it’s time for a change.
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Author: Bryan Noonan
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