To The Daily Sun,
The following is an open letter to the new Bellknap County Commission and each one will be sent a copy:
Recidivism and Rehabilitation:
Despite the many different views on the success or failure of rehabilitation programs in the prisons, the extreme cost to the taxpayers for many programs must be considered, as well as the type of programs best suited to fit smaller budgets. What works in one state or city or town may not be the answer for another. Later in this piece I will offer a few suggestions knowing there are many more out there, and all should be considered.
A decade or so ago, with prison reforms and rehabilitation programs in place, the U.S. prison population went from 150,000 to 2.3 million today. This is 1/4 of world's prison population. 80 percent of the 2.3 million are for non-violent offenses, often drug related crimes.*
Today the U.S. spends more than $80 billion a year on its criminal justice system. New York, California and Florida spend more on keeping people in prison than they do on higher education. For example, in California it costs $45,000.00 a year to keep a prisoner in jail, while it only costs $15,000.00 to send a person to the State University System.*
To make matters worse, the overall recidivism rate in the U.S. is around 67 percent.*
(*These facts from James Jiler "Solutions" dated 6/21/13.)
We should consider the number and types of cases that are committed to the system. Nonviolent crimes must be looked at with probation sentences with mandatory rehab programs during probation, and again, rehab programs for inmates while in prison, rather than extending their time after sentence is done.
Other suggestions have been learning job skills while incarcerated, and one thing that we here in Belknap County could do is gardening and farming. This is something we did for years, and the food for the prison and county nursing home could easily be raised on the property or the state prison property. The working out-of-doors is beneficial to health and proper diets which in itself is a rehab tool. This helps prisoners and at same time cuts some of the costs. We had prisoners on work programs outside the jail that aided the county's cities and towns with road work, and park duties, thus saving cities and towns some money. This program could be brought back and expanded even more. At the same time doing a good day's work rather than sitting all day in a cell or looking at TV gives a person self-esteem and a feeling of doing something good. Positive thoughts of one's self are far more beneficial to future thoughts and behavior than the negative ones gotten by lack of physical exercise and exercises the mind as well.
Nonviolent prisoners who receive probation rather than jail time might be able to not only do mandatory rehab programs but participate in vo-tech programs if qualified. The number of beds needed would be fewer if they were on probation.
The other problem is the great number of mentally ill persons being imprisoned rather than in mental health facilities or supervision. The county and state should be allocating funding and spaces for these people. Rehab programs in prisons won't cure the mentally ill. There is apparently federal money in the pipeline and the county should be working to see the state get their share and let it trickle down to the local level.
The point is, there are as many solutions out there as there are problems. Throwing money at it hasn't proven to be the panacea to what is successful. Don't forget that after prisoners are released, the communities to which they return will still be on the hook for most of them for housing, food stamps, and welfare. So, the money drain never stops and the numbers from U.S. News (4/22/14) show that 67.8 percent are arrested within three years of release and 76.7 percent of that number, within five years . Of the 76.6 percent, more than one third are arrested in the first six months of release and more than half by the end of first year are sent back to prison despite the rehabilitation programs. A PEW study notes that despite new programs there is only marginal improvement in recidivism rate even though spending increased to $80 billion from $30 billion a decade ago.
I am asking the new commission to consider all of the above as well as many other ideas that are floated and do what is best for both the prison system and its inmates as well as for the people and taxpayers of the county. If the budget is too high, it will mean ALL communities in the county will pay above what they can afford and that means cutting roads, schools, police and fire departments.
There will be other points of view on this and they deserve consideration as well, but this is one side based on facts that makes a convincing point. Let's get on with it and rebuild a safe and functional Prison with programs that don't require multiple new employees.
Councilor Ward 4
- Category: Letters
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