Nearly a decade after the end of parole, almost one third of all Virginia inmates walk out of prison to freedom each year, says the Richmond Times-Dispatch. About a third of them, unprepared for society or unrepentant for their crimes, will be back behind bars within three years. Many of the 600,000 prisoners released nationwide every year never break another law. Many others pick up where they left off, smarter and meaner. “We’ve been absorbing a lot of people from the prison systems into our communities in the United States for a long time . . . a mind-blowing number,” said criminologist Todd Clear of John Jay College, part of the City University of New York.
In 1995, Virginia Gov. George Allen made good on a promise to end parole and establish tougher sentencing guidelines for violent criminals to shut the “revolving door of justice.” He complained that three out of four violent crimes were committed by repeat offenders. Now, violent criminals are serving substantially longer sentences, but the average time served for all inmates is less than four years. It appears that three out of four violent crimes still are committed by repeat offenders. H. Scott Richeson, with the state Department of Corrections for 23 years, said: “We’ve always thought that the worst thing you can do is have someone locked up forever and then spit them out. . . . Maybe people are finally getting smart.” The prognosis isn’t rosy. According to the National Institute of Corrections, the transition process from prison to community “is deeply flawed in most states.” Since the early 1970s, despite many efforts, the percentage of former inmates who return to prison within three years has stubbornly remained around 30 to 36 percent.