In Wisconsin and many other states around the country, local governments are beginning to reexamine and revise their criminal sentencing and prison procedures. Faced with budget shortfalls and high rates of recidivism, states and counties are establishing alternative methods of punishment for people who are convicted of DUI, drug crimes, and other low-level, nonviolent offenses. Often, these sentences are geared more toward rehabilitation, focusing on the behavior that led to the criminal offense instead of merely punishing for the offense that was its product.
Following this line of thinking, one city with a long history of crime has launched a new program aimed at helping inmates secure steady jobs and paychecks following their release from prison, believing that doing so will set in motion a series of positive developments in the inmates’ lives and keep them from re-offending.
Focusing on work is different from the traditional reentry approach, which focuses on finding housing, completing drug treatment and, in the final step, offering job training. Instead, this program places finding a job first on the list, partnering with employment agencies and coaching inmates through the job interview process.
The thinking behind the program is simple. When inmates are able to secure long-term employment, advocates believe, they are given the motivation, financial security and pride they need to resist the lure of their previous life.
Although it may be too soon to tell whether the work program has a long-term positive effect, it is encouraging to see city governments taking action and enacting programs such as this one. With about 700,000 inmates released from state and federal prison every year and a national recidivism rate around 50 percent, it is clear that the current system effectively serves neither the offender nor the state.
Source: Wall Street Journal, “From Prison to a Paycheck,” Howard Husock, Aug. 3, 2012