Re-Entry Week–Rehabilitate Prisoners
April 29, 2016
Rehabilitate Former Prisoners with Jobs
By Kevin Gay & Bert Smith
There is a pervasive misunderstanding that individuals who commit crimes simply go away when they are locked up. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Nationwide, even though more than 2 million citizens are incarcerated and in excess of 11 million will serve time in local jails, approximately 95 percent of inmates currently serving time in state prisons will be released one day. And the rate of release is more than 600,000 people per year.
We’ve all heard the stories, and we’re all familiar with the data revealing pervasively high recidivism rates, i.e., people being released from prison and shortly thereafter committing a new crime and ending up back behind bars. If the purposes of our criminal justice system are punishment and deterrence, public safety, and rehabilitation, clearly our system is failing us.
So the question with which we as a society must grapple is this: What sort of future for these released men and women best serves society at large?
Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the federal Department of Justice have designated the week of April 24 “National Re-entry Week” to help bring attention to the important work of helping ex-offenders re-enter society. As the leaders of two nonprofits on the front lines of this effort, we strongly believe that solutions exist, lives can be changed, and communities can be improved. Moreover, we truly can give these ex-offenders a second chance to lead productive lives.
Re-entry matters to all of us because successful re-entry makes us all safer and results in a more socially beneficial use of our tax dollars, and successful re-entry begins on the day an inmate enters prison.
Rehabilitation is never easy, but it is possible. One of the most important crime-fighting tools is employment. Operation New Hope’s Ready4Work program in Florida helps recently released clients transition back into the community and become productive and responsible citizens. Through a four-to-six week course, we address drug abuse issues, offer mentorship and guidance, teach character development and other life skills, provide job training and assist with job placement. Because of the rigorous nature of our programs, we have been able to successfully transition more than 3,600 ex-offenders back into their communities and workforce. Just as important, our strategic partnerships with local law enforcement, businesses, and the faith and community agencies have thrived. They see safer streets and find talented, dedicated, and reliable employees. When we find our clients jobs, we are helping to make our community safer and strengthening our local economy.
In Texas, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program’s approach to re-entry begins behind bars and supports inmates who want to reboot their lives. Our in-prison education teaches leadership, character development, and business skills, with college-level courses supplemented by graduate school case studies. Inmates develop a business plan and present it to real-world executives. They develop the skills they will need upon release to find a job or start a business and live a good life. When they are released, we provide comprehensive re-entry services in a structured environment of accountability and encouragement. We have served over 1,200 inmates in their transition and are proud to say that 100 percent of PEP graduates are employed within 90 days of release (and more than 180 graduates have started over 200 businesses). After one year, 90 percent are still employed, and our recidivism rate is just 7 percent.
Whether or not they have a program to help support their re-entry, all ex-offenders today face numerous barriers to success. While some make sense, given the crimes committed, many of these restrictions prevent ex-offenders from qualifying for decent jobs and housing. In Florida, there are 1,166 legal and regulatory sanctions and restrictions a person faces in addition to the sentences imposed by the courts. In Texas, that number is 1,586. Having allowed these restrictions to accumulate and persist, we as a society should not be surprised that as many as half of released parolees become homeless and choose to return to a life of crime.
We both have seen the transformative power of education, character development, faith, and employment through our work. We have seen lives literally saved. When you watch and assist an individual break a cycle of self-destruction and become a confident, responsible, happy, and productive member of society, you cannot help but be inspired.
Re-entry is about keeping all of us safe; it is about finding jobs, teaching skills, restoring hope, and saving lives.
We could not do this work alone. PEP and Operation New Hope rely on partnerships with law enforcement, prisons, and especially the business community. So this Re-entry Week, we encourage you to celebrate by engaging the businesses in your community. Businesses need motivated, talented workers; ex-offenders need a way to turn their lives around. The best crime prevention is a good job. Let’s get to work.
Kevin Gay is CEO and founder of Operation New Hope, and Bert Smith is the CEO of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.