In 1994, John Popovich, a 34-year-old convicted felon, was found guilty on charges of forging a drug prescription — a crime committed almost exclusively by substance abusers. He was sentenced to five years probation. In the 10 years since, he has violated probation or parole eight times. By July 1, 2004, Popovich had served more than two years in jail, even though his original sentence did not require jail time. Now he sits in a state prison, resentenced to 2 1/2 to five years. His case highlights the need to make real changes in the rehabilitation and treatment of prisoners to end the cycle of re-incarceration, writes prosecutor Matthew Mangino of Lawrence County, Pa., in the Washington Post.
Cells across the country are full, not because of mandatory sentencing or the incarceration of drug offenders, Mangino says, but because the system produces thousands of people like Popovich every day, having repeatedly failed to help them gain the skills necessary to manage life on the outside. He complains that as the cost of maintaining and expanding prisons has increased, most funds that states set aside to help prisoners make the transition from prison to life outside have been slashed. In 1991, one in four state prison inmates received treatment for drug addiction. By 1997, one in 10 received treatment. Because of mandatory sentencing, Mangino says, criminals who committed multiple violent offenses, used weapons, or sold drugs have been put behind bars. Such efforts have had an impact on violent crime. These convicts should be given an opportunity to succeed on reentry into society. Instead they are being dumped on the street to fend for themselves and will eventually feed the cycle of reincarceration.