Nearly two-thirds of parolees commit another crime within three years of their release, according to the Department of Justice. Federal, state and local governments are all discovering ways to stop these expensive, revolving doors. Jobs, education, drug courts and drug treatment are all avenues that may make a difference
Hiring a prisoner who is just getting out of jail sounds risky. It's more risky for society to refuse to hire ex-prisoners since with no way to earn an income, returning to crime becomes appealing. Being excluded from normal society also increases the chance they will return to crime. A government in Texas recently took a bold step and banned the box on many job applications that must be checked if someone has been convicted of a crime. (See Urban Institute below for more information.) Other governments are working to help connect inmates working to re-enter society with jobs. New York City, Chicago and Newark, N.J. are all working to help get ex-inmates get hired as quickly as possible. Called "work first,” this philosophy emphasizes getting a job as the highest priority of rehabilitation for a recently released prisoner. Most governments do not hire ex-convicts because so many government jobs require security clearance and strong ethical behavior. Ex-convicts do not face these same barriers in jobs requiring physical labor. They can work as mechanics and drivers, as well as in industries such as agriculture and landscaping, building trades, food services and road building to make a living wage.
Prison inmates do not match the educational level of the population at large. Instead, they are more likely to have dropped out of school. Florida found the average state inmate achieved a sixth grade proficiency when tested. Community colleges were able to provide free tuition to ex-convicts until a federal law that was passed in 2008 stopped that option. The Bureau of Labor Statistics discovered that high school dropouts earned $17,000 per year on average, while the average income for high school graduates is $32,000 and for college graduates is $56,000.
Nearly three-fourths of convicts were convicted for drug-related crimes. The Second Chance Act passed by Congress in 2008 provides drug treatment funding to state and non-profit organizations. Many localities created drug courts to deal only with drug abusers. When a person commits a non-violent crime to get drugs, the judge offers drug treatment as an alternative to prison. The addict is paired with a mentor, and the judge has the person in court frequently to review that he or she is actually in recovery and working a treatment plan.
- gavel image by Cora Reed from Fotolia.com