FEBRUARY 23, 2018
By Brian Hamilton
"We are now two for two. President Obama, a Democrat, addressed the need to help inmates acclimate to society after their release. President Trump, a Republican, spoke in his State of the Union address about the need to help formerly incarcerated people get a second chance. We can take momentary solace in having one issue that even the people we don’t like can agree on – we need a better plan to help inmates become more productive members of society upon their release.
The costs of not doing so are profound and well documented. With the largest prison population in the world and the second highest rate of incarceration, the United States spends $80 billion on public corrections agencies annually. Some 2.2 million people (equal to the combined populations of Hawaii and Alaska) are incarcerated, and more than 90 percent of them will be released at some point. This data does not account for the human suffering of inmates and their victims.
Although there have been many proposals to help inmates, not enough is getting done, and the rate of recidivism continues to be unacceptably high. About two-thirds of released state prisoners are rearrested within three years of re-entering society. Three out of four are rearrested within five years of release, according to the most recent data. Some people of good intention have proposed that we need better drug treatment programs for inmates who suffer from substance abuse. Others have proposed that we need better job training to give inmates more enhanced skills. Finally, there are some who propose that inmates need better skills with simple life tasks, such as reading, writing and managing money.
The data on these efforts is conflicting, but, under any of these approaches, even if properly executed, we are left with the elephant in the room – widespread discrimination against people who have been formerly incarcerated. So, for example, if inmates get trained in certain jobs, they may develop the skills they need, but it may not lead to a higher rate of employment because employers routinely discriminate against those who have been incarcerated. But, in a way, we don’t need a study to tell us what’s obvious — if I drop a hammer on my head, it will probably hurt. Employers take great risks in hiring anyone for their companies. They have the cost to train people. They have the uncertainty of knowing whether people will perform jobs adequately. They have the additional scrutiny of human resources regulations. So, can you really blame employers for not hiring inmates who at the least have a record that objectively increases the risk of hiring them? I don’t think so. I think pointing our fingers at employers is not only wrong; worse, it accomplishes nothing."
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