Reevaluating Our Criminal Justice Service and How We Provide Services To Those Returning To Society
by Halbert Sullivan, CEO, Fathers’ Support Center St. Louis.
Former prisoners relapsing into crime and returning to incarceration are a monumental problem in the United States, and it’s getting worse. The prevalence of imprisonment in the United States has more than doubled over the last 30 years, up from 1.3% in 1974 to 2.7% in 2003, as reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. During 2003, 18,042 individuals were committed to Missouri’s prison system while 17,545 were released .
TheReport of the Re-Entry Policy Council shows that, of the 650,000 people released from prisons each year, seventy percent will commit new crimes within three years . The council concludes that the vast majority of ex-offenders do not get the assistance they need to help them transition to a life of freedom. For many former prisoners, that help may mean substance abuse treatment; for others, it may be health services or housing assistance. For nearly all, it is employment assistance.
The cycle of recidivism occurs despite a huge increase in the money spent on corrections. The cost of corrections will only continue to grow unless effective re-entry programs are implemented across the country. Ensuring successful re-entry means both safer communities and the improved use of tax dollars. For former prisoners, there are many barriers to a successful re-entry to public life, from drug dependency and illiteracy to serious illness and debt, especially child support arrearages. According the report, among ex-offenders:
- Three-quarters have a history of substance abuse, though only 10 percent in state prisons and three percent in local jails receive formal treatment before release.
- Two thirds have no high school diploma.
- More than a third report some physical or mental disability, with a rate of serious mental illness two to four times greater than among the general population.
- More than half have children under age 18, leaving many of them with massive child support debt.
- 8-12% were homeless at some time before incarceration.
- Nearly half of those leaving jail were earning less than $600 per month immediately prior to incarceration.
More than half of all currently incarcerated persons are parents 
. Children of ex-offenders are often stigmatized and often exhibit some forms of behavioral problems, as well as being more likely to offend themselves 
. These children often feel abandoned and alone. While family members are generally not part of the criminal activities, they, too, are significantly impacted by a loved one’s incarceration. With 97% of incarcerated persons re-entering society, it becomes all the more important to invest in programs and services that prepare these individual to rejoin society 
. Newly released person have a huge impact on our families, neighborhoods, communities, and cities-at-large.