How often do you hear about an ex-con returning to prison?
Unfortunately, the norm of behavior indicates that the probability of such is uncomfortably high. According to the California Innocence Project, over 65% of inmates released from California’s prison system return within three years. The CIP highlights that 73% of ex-offenders committed a new crime or violated parole within the first year of their release.
The narrative must change, but the plot is not hard to understand.
Here are three highly acclaimed recommendations to help reduce recidivism in communities not only in California, but nationwide.
1. Increase Contact with Family Members
As Alex Friedman, Associate Director of the Human Rights Defense Center and managing editor of the Prison Legal News, points out, prisoners who maintain close contact with their family members while behind bars have better post-release outcomes and lower recidivism rates.
One of the proceeding obstacles to reentry support for ex-offenders is opposition from the public viewing them as second-class citizens unworthy of basic compassion and essentials such as housing or employment. An ex-inmate is just that, a former convict, not necessarily a current offender.
Knowing that positive and supportive relationships are possible increases an ex-offenders chance of reentering into society without relapse and relying on the prison system for a sense of community safety.
2. Provide Access to Medical Benefits
Health coverage for ex-inmates is critical to not only reducing recidivism but also to promoting public welfare. If ex-offenders are denied access to community doctors and health establishments the risk of them contracting infectious diseases increases as does the unlikelihood of them receiving effective treatments.
As ex-offenders begin to engage with other declared-as healthy members of society, the chance of contraction and spreading of disease heightens. The lack of health benefits for ex-offenders not only leaves them and the public vulnerable to disease, but such denial of care skews an ex-offender’s mindset. The risk of recidivism increases if going back to prison becomes the only viable avenue to receive healthcare.
The government seems to have recognized this challenge and are taking actions to address it.
According to the National Public Radio, in April 2016, the federal government improved low Medicaid enrollment for emerging prisoners, urging states to start sign ups before release and expanding eligibility to thousands of former inmates in halfway houses near the end of their sentences.
3. Knowledge is Power
Prison education programs aid in preventing recidivism. RAND Corporation determined that a prisoner who actively participates in correctional education programs is 43 percent less likely to become a repeat offender than a prisoner who didn’t get involved in the programs.
At Angola State Prison in Louisiana - the largest maximum state prison in America - things were getting so violent, dark and scary that the Warden, Burl Cain, was forced to do something to "bring it to its knees." He opted to "use Christ to pacify Angola," inviting the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to open an ordination program on prison grounds. And it worked - in 1992, there were over 1340 assaults at Angola; last year there were 343.
For a maximum security prison where nearly every inmate is a violent offender, this is an extraordinary improvement -- and that's why Serving California modeled our TUMI program (The Urban Ministry Institute) inside 22 California state prisons after the Angola method. Simply put, moral rehabilitation works because knowledge is power and education is key.
Tonya McClary, criminal defense lawyer, activist and the National Criminal Justice Representative for the American Friends Service Committee points out “the way a society treats people convicted of crimes is an indicator of the human values of that society.”