San Francisco Aggressively Pursuing Prisoner Re-Entry, Rehabilitation


San Francisco is focusing aggressively on reintegration of ex-offenders into society, says Governing magazine. The city now has a wide array of programs and policies that often see jail or prison as a last resort and instead push criminals toward housing, education, social services and drug rehabilitation. It's a strategy that is viewed by many with skepticism and even outright hostility. “I get a lot of flak—from my community, from prosecutors and from law enforcement,” says Paul Henderson, Mayor Ed Lee’s criminal justice director. “They think it's liberal bullshit.”

Henderson believes that in the long run, rehabilitation costs less than imprisonment, and that his critics' approach has done little other than create a state prison system so overcrowded that federal courts have determined it's unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. Henderson insists rehabilitation is the only approach that works if the city wants to both save money and actually reform criminal behavior. “Where do you think these people go when they're released?” Henderson says. “Do you think they end up in Australia? Do they enroll in MIT and become professors on the East Coast? No. The average prison term is two to three years. They've been separated from all their friends and family, they don't have a job, they were presumably uneducated and are still undereducated. And they're coming back to the exact same community—your community—without a foundation and without the support because they've been gone. What do you think they're going to do? It's a disservice to act like we don't know this process is going on and not intervene.”

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