There was an article on this past Saturday’s Buffalo News opinion page describing the ways in which New York State is trying to reduce prison recidivism. These programs, social and educational in nature, try to help inmates nearing parole to transition back into society without relapse.
Many of these parolees spend a long time without freedom as we know it; but they do get free room and board, and they make friends (we are, after all, social animals). Many regain their freedom with no clue how to find a job, how to hold a job, how to reintegrate into a society that generally wants little to do with them anyway. Many find that they have more friends (or their only friends) behind bars. The stigma attached to them and the very limited opportunities work against many of them from day one on the outside.
Re-entry programs don’t always work but even a modest goal of reducing the rate at which parolees end up back in jail is something to shoot for. It is more than a humanitarian gesture: The cost to incarcerate someone in a state prison is currently $32,000 per year. And each court case resulting in conviction costs an estimated $50,000. Reduction of recidivism by just a few percent pays for these social programs many times over.
This is also the kind of program that will be on next year’s chopping block as New York looks to trim billions of dollars from the budget. Penny-wise, pound foolish.