President Obama’s unofficial pardon of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was a fleeting story highlighting a durable problem, says conservative columnist Michael Gerson in the Washington Post. Team owner Jeffrey Lurie says Obama told him, “it’s never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail.'” About 700,000 former inmates come back to communities each year with considerably dimmer prospects than Michael Vick, Gerson says.
The columnist notes that states are seeking for better ways to to distinguish between the predatory who require prison and the nonviolent who need something else. They are questioning mandatory minimum sentences and creating drug courts that give priority to treatment. There is less creativity, but equal need, on the reintegration of ex-prisoners: providing transitional work programs, addressing addiction and mental health issues, removing unnecessary barriers to employment and housing, Gerson says, concluding that,
“Obama’s instinct on this issue is entirely correct, and he should run with it. ” An Obama administration inter-departmental council on the issue is meeting today.