Facts about PA's justice system
Many folks think that people in prison no longer have an effect on the rest of society, but that couldn't be further from the truth!
Especially when the time comes for the formerly incarcerated to try to step back into society and carve out productive, meaningful lives for themselves. Society bears an awful burden when its members can't get the resources they need.
Read on to see some of the ways that ex-offenders can get the best help to get their lives going again...and how everyone suffers when they don't get that support -- families, communities, taxpayers, and our over-stretched corrections facilities.
Recidivism: Employment makes a difference
95% of the current inmate population will be released from prison one day. An unemployed ex-offender is three times more likely to go back to jail than an employed offender. It is important that these ex-offenders are successfully reintegrated into society in order to end the criminal cycle. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections conducts the Community Organization and Reintegration (C.O.R.) program in the weeks and months leading up to a prisoners release from prison but many participants feel that the program does not go far enough. The Department of Corrections in Connecticut has a successful employment program with full time counselors, provides Internet access to the inmates, and conducts Career Fairs within the prisons.
Businesses are more willing to hire ex-offenders who are involved in reentry programs conducted by community and faith-based organizations. The Federal program Ready4Work funds these types of organizations throughout the country, but not in the Pittsburgh area. Nationwide, 57% of Ready4Work participants were hired within 3 months. The program costs about $4,500 per participant, which is significantly less than the $25,000 – $40,000 a year for re-incarceration. Ready4Work recidivism rates are 45% lower than the national average.
The Safer Foundation in Chicago is one of these organizations. It provides its participants with mentors and other services aimed to increase their ability to find employment.
For more information on the benefits of state-sponsored employment assistance programs for ex-offenders, check these sites out:
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Community Orientation and Reintegration Program
The Connecticut Department of Corrections Employment Program
Safer Foundation of Chicago
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: The Negative Impacts on Society
Minimum Sentencing Guidelines were put in place in 1986 to target the managers of drug rings the result has been overcrowding in prisons and more spending of taxpayers’ money. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission only 11% of federal drug defendants are high-level drug dealers. However, over 80% of the increase in the federal prison population is from drug convictions.
Since the federal minimum sentencing guidelines were passed in 1986 the number of drug offenders in state prisons has increased three-fold while the general prison population has increased six-fold.
For more information check out:
The Drug Policy Alliance Network
The Sentencing Project
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: The Impact on Families
In the United States there are approximately 2 million children between the ages of 5 and 18 that have an incarcerated parent. A U.S. Senate study states that 70% of children with incarcerated parents will find themselves incarcerated at some point in their lives. They are 5-6 times more likely to go to prison than other children.
The Pennsylvania Prison Society, with aid from the Department of Corrections, is expanding their Parenting Education services to include seven State Correctional Institutions across the state. Amachi Pittsburgh, a program run through the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation with federal funding, provides mentoring and other programs for children of incarcerated parents.
The Oregon Department of Corrections is beginning a program to increase communication between children and their parents while they are still incarcerated. Programs such as this one have been shown to increase parental success and reduce recidivism.
Intervention programs such as these help to keep the children of incarcerated parents away from a life of crime, reducing the amount of criminals that go through the criminal justice system and are housed in correctional institutions. These programs help the child cope with having a parent in prison, while at the same time helping the inmate improve their parenting skills and make it easier to return home once he or she is released.
For more information check out:
The Pennsylvania Prison Society
The Oregon Department of Corrections Parenting Program
Needed: Continued Availability of Drug and Alcohol Treatment
Participation in drug and alcohol programs reduces recidivism rates by 11% and increases employability.
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections provides drug and alcohol treatment for those in prison, but they are often not comprehensive enough. Many drug and alcohol programs available for those outside of prison have long waitlists and are difficult to get into. More comprehensive drug programs will make it easier for ex-offenders to reenter their communities and keep them out of the criminal justice system.
For more information check out: The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Drug and Alcohol Programs
Needed: Housing Opportunities and Assistance
Under the Federal “One Strike” Policy, a criminal history involving drug related offenses, as well as other convictions, makes you ineligible for public housing through the Allegheny County Housing Authority and the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh.
The Allegheny County public housing ban is in effect until 5 years after conviction, even though most Pennsylvania inmates are serving 1-2 year sentences. This means that even if someone only spends 1 year in jail, it might be 5 years before they are allowed to live with their families, if their families live in public housing.
For more information on this issue see: The Human Rights Watch