Economic hard times may spell more challenges for released offenders. Few employers, given a choice of candidates, want to hire them. Facing housing problems, struggling with addictions and other challenges, unable to live anywhere but in the neighborhoods where they got into trouble, most end up back in the slammer, says columnist Ruben Rosario of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. From more than half to nearly two-thirds of state offenders commit a new crime or violate terms of their release within three years. Linking former inmates with jobs “is an immensely important economic issue” that requires leadership, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said last week at a national policy roundtable on the subject.
U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) pointed out that “political fear and ideology” have driven shortsighted policies. Rosario says, “As long as these folks go back to mostly poor, crime-plagued and marginalized communities that have no political, voting or economic clout, not much will change.” Bruce Western of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government proposed a national prisoner re-entry program. His proposal would offer a year of federally funded community-service employment to ex-offenders in need of a job after release. He also would combine employment with housing, substance abuse treatment with in-prison education – which, studies indicate, dramatically reduces recidivism – and post-release parole reform.