About 21,000 inmates will leave Illinois prisons this year and re-enter society within the city limits, says the Chicago Tribune. Many drift almost invisibly back to the neighborhoods where they found trouble in the first place. From January 2004 to June 2005, 27,944 people were released to Chicago. Already, 6,405–nearly 23 percent–are back in prison. Over the last three decades, the U.S. largely gave up on rehabilitating prisoners while prison populations swelled. For more than a decade, Medicaid and corrections have been the only two areas in which states have increased spending.
More than half of Illinois’ 44,524 prisoners are either repeat offenders or parole violators. That means thousands of additional crimes are being committed by people who might have been rehabilitated. In a sense, imprisonment may be creating more crime, said Arthur Lurigio, a criminologist at Loyola University Chicago, who noted that first-time offenders locked up with hardened criminals tend to pick up more pointers in prison than they do life skills. “Our system is not set up to prevent crime. It’s set up to perpetuate it.” Some argue that even if prisoners are given more resources, there’s no proof they can be reformed. David Farabee, a research psychologist at UCLA and author of the book “Rethinking Rehabilitation,” says prisoner rehabilitation programs never have proved effective, and reviews of such programs are often manipulated to produce favorable results. Many corrections experts believe that convinced drug treatment and education can keep ex-offenders out of prison. A 1997 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that attending school while in prison can cut reincarceration nearly 30 percent; other reports have found recidivism rates for inmates who take college-level courses can dip below 20 percent.