Community police officers can help reduce crime by becoming more involved in helping former prisoners successfully re-enter their home communities, leaders of the nation’s largest law enforcement organization said today. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) increasingly is focusing on the high failure rate of released inmates–67 percent by some estimates, IACP research director John Firman told the National Committee on Community Corrections. “When offenders repeat, they become police clientele,” Firman said.
Overall, parolees are responsible for more than 10 percent of crime, said Missouri Corrections Director Gary Kempker, a former police chief who heads IACP’s community policing committee. Noting that the average time served in prison is only 2.5 years and that 97 percent of Missouri released inmates return to their home areas, Kempker said the “future of the criminal justice system is bleak if we don’t look at things differently.”
Missouri is experimenting with a “Going Home” program in sections of Kansas City in which former prisoners meet with community boards that include social service providers, police officers, and other government officials, and volunteers to get help in finding jobs, housing, and education.
The project has had an “overwhelming response from the community,” said its director, Julie Rollins. Four former prisoners have been hired to serve as mentors to others who have been released. Some police officers initially resisted the project, deriding it as a “hug a thug” effort, Rollins said. But now that they can see how it works, they have embraced it, sometimes dropping by at ex-offenders’ homes to offer help.
Kempker said that prison systems have erred by typically not planning for inmates’ release until shortly before they are scheduled to leave. This is a flawed approach, comparable to seeing a doctor only when one is terminally ill, Kempker said. He said Missouri corrections officials now believes that “when they come in the door, we should start preparing for the day they go out the door.”
Firman said the IACP will encourage the nation’s 800,000 police officers to take a more active role in prisoner re-entry. President George W. Bush said in last month’s State of the Union address that he would support expanded federal aid to help ex-inmates, especially through religious organizations.