States should pay more attention to preparing prisoners for a successful re-entry into society, says Jeremy Travis of the Washington-based Urban Institute. Speaking to a National Conference of State Legislatures session on prisoner re-entry, Travis cited the “very high risk of re-offending” among prisoners ending their terms. “Some are very bad actors,” he said.
Despite the focus on “three strikes” life sentences, the average time served in prison is only about two and one-half years, Travis said. So many ex-convicts are returning to prison on parole violations that more are entering corrections facilities each year through this “back door” than entered through the front door as recently as 1980.
A central reason for the failure to make sure that many inmates are ready for release, said Travis, is the move in recent decades toward more mandatory sentences and less discretion by parole authorities. That means that 3 of 4 state prisoners in the U.S. are released automatically at a set time.
A similar message was delivered to state legislators at the conference by Gary Hinzman, a former police chief in Cedar Rapids, Ia., now heading correctional services in an Iowa judicial district. Hinzman said that crime victims favor “treatment [of inmates] to ensure a safe release.” He added that, “if all you do is punish, they will recidivate at a higher rate.”
The legislators were told that Florida may move to tighten supervision of parolees and probationers as a result of the recent murder of young Carlie Brucia in Sarasota. With prison admissions last year running 4.4 percent over the number forecast, Florida lawmakers authorized $66 million to add 3,168 prison beds.
This year, legislators were expected to discuss community corrections programs as a way to reserve prison beds for violent offenders and send more convicts to drug treatment.
After the Brucia killing, the legislative emphasis has shifted to “why do we have dangerous offenders in the community?,” said Marti Harkness, chief legislative analyst for the Florida Legislature. Pending legislation would provide the higest level of supervision for high risk offenders until it is determined that the convict no longer poses an “increased threat.”