The U.S. has a serious problem with a criminal system that has 2.2 million people behind bars, often for non-violent offenses committed at a time when politicians competed to see who was tougher on crime. One way the failure of this method – consisting of incarcerating people and forgetting about them – manifests itself is in the country’s extremely high recidivism rate, which sometimes surpasses 80%.
It is estimated that over 600 prisoners are freed every year, facing a difficult road towards reintegration. An analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that nearly two-thirds of all ex-convicts return to jail within 3 years. After 5 years, three-quarters of them have gone back to prison, and more than half are arrested within their first year outside. Additionally, 82% of all people who committed felonies such as robbery went back to jail, as well as 77% of those convicted of drug charges and of 71% of those jailed for violent crimes.
This is why the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, designed to correct previous excesses and which has bipartisan support in Congress, needs to be accompanied by concrete measures to help ex-convicts reintegrate into society in a positive manner.
The proposals announced yesterday by the White House are an important step in this direction. They establish a series of programs and subsidies with limited reach and funding meant to prepare both juvenile and adult ex-convicts for the job market ‒ with a focus on the technology field ‒ and to help them find housing.
It is worth mentioning the disappearance of the “box” previously featured in federal job applications which asked if an individual has been in prison, an action meant to set a standard for the private sector. The Department of Justice estimates that 60 to 75% of all ex-convicts are unable to find a job within their first year of freedom, a contributing factor to the high relapse rates.
In 2008, the Second Chance Society bill was approved in an effort to combat recidivism. Let’s hope that the measure is extended today, when a reauthorization pending in Congress would supplement the Executive’s actions. Rehabilitation is crucial to the future’s individual and to public safety.