Parole officials should redesign their programs for released inmates to provide significant help at the time they are freed, says an expert committee convened by the National Research Council, part of the National Academies of Science. The panel based its recommendation on findings that the probability that an ex-prisoner will commit another crime is highest in the first few weeks after release. The group was co-chaired by criminologists Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Joan Petersilia of the University of California-Irvine.
During a discussion of the report yesterday at the National Institute of Justice’s annual conference in Northern Virginia, Peggy Burke of the Maryland-based Center for Effective Public Policy said a key to ex-convicts’ success is to have an “immediately available person” to help them on release and a plan for work or education ready. Because 97 percent of prisoners eventually get out, Burke said, a “get-tough” sentencing regime doesn’t address public safety concerns if it fails to include a good program to help prisoners re-enter society. Rosenfeld cited a number of measures that do help curtail recidivism by ex-inmates, including cognitive-behavior treatment and in-prison vocational, educational, and drug treatment programs when combined with post-release help.