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Is Rehabilitation of Felony offenders Possible, or Even Desirable?

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Is Rehabilitation of Felony Offenders Possible, or even Desirable?

Jon Dimitroff

Axia College University of Phoenix

According to the Congressional Research Service, two-thirds of ex-offenders come back into the criminal justice program within three years of their release. A major factor in this recidivism rate is a lack of programs designed to prepare felons for life after release. As someone who has been through the system, and seen the lack of any programs available to help felons reintegrate into society and actually be successful, I believe I am qualified to speak on this subject. I have seen too many people either spend years under Department of Corrections supervision, or go back to prison because they cannot stay out of trouble. In either case, they were lacking the life skills necessary to stay out of trouble. Most had spent several years in prison, during which time they could have been taught the skills necessary to prepare them for the realities of life out here in the real world.

The main reason these skills are not being taught in prison is the expense involved. I have talked to many DoC personnel over the time I was in, and heard repeatedly about the decreasing monies available for education, by doing a little research I have found statistics to back these claims up. The budgets are being cut everywhere, and some of the first programs to be cut are the very programs the felons need to learn to be successful upon their release. Even though it seems too expensive to train them, or to change their mindset, rehabilitation is far better than simply warehousing them; because without useful skills, they are being set up for failure; and it is far better to make them a productive part of society than making them better criminals. I will discuss why rehabilitation is better than warehousing the offenders. I will then discuss how they are being set up for failure due to a lack of useful skills, and lastly I will examine why it is far better to make them a productive part of society than it is to make them better criminals. With 650,000 felons being released every year, it seems that training them to be a productive part of society would be more cost effective than having them be a drain on it.

Rehabilitation, though expensive, costs less than warehousing inmates. With the recidivism rate at nearly 67%, it seems obvious that the felons are reverting to skills they have due to a lack of training (Bonczar, T., 2003). This may not sound like a problem to people who are not aware of the facts, but with a failure rate of two-thirds no other organization would still be in business, yet our prison system is not only failing to rehabilitate the offenders, it is thriving on that very lack of success. The United States has the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, yet we do little to keep these people from going back to prison once they have served out their sentences.

More than 400,000 felons are returning to prison every year at a national average of over $22,000 per inmate (Stephan, J., 2004). If we could spend a little more for a few years giving the inmates the skills they need to not only survive after they get out, but to succeed in living a productive life, we might not have to continue to spend money on inmates that just return in a few years. Warehousing the inmates costs us billions of dollars each year, with no return on our money. The state cost of operating the prison system was $28.4 billion as of fiscal year 2001 (Stephan, J., 2004). That is an average cost to every taxpayer of over a hundred dollars a year. Given the return rate of felons to prison, we are wasting over $9.5 billion every year. Yes, that is billion, with a 'b'! Wasted on housing, feeding, and clothing inmates who will only return to prison, because they do not have the skills to get a job, and provide for themselves.

Having looked at the cost of warehousing the inmates let us turn our attention to how they are being set up for failure. In the land of the second chance, it seems felons are being offered the chance to fail rather than to succeed. Felons are often released without a job, a home to go to, some do not even have identification (Gershon, M., 2009). This author can attest to how difficult it is to survive the first few months without some kind of outside support. It took almost four months to find employment, and that was before the economy took the nosedive it has been in for the past few months. Fortunately, some states will let the felons keep their prison Identification badge, so they have at least that to prove they are who they say they are. Finding a job with no home address can be next to impossible, yet the states are requiring those felons released as homeless to do exactly that.

"Increased dollars have funded operating costs for more prisons, but not more rehabilitation (Petersilia, J., 2000 p.2)." While it is becoming harder to find gainful employment, and more felons are returning to prison than ever before, rather than spend some of the money they are getting to train the inmates to do something useful, the states are building more prisons. Washington State has more prisoners than prisons to house them all, so they have contracted with, at this point, five other states to house the overflow. Building new prisons to warehouse more inmates does not seem like a viable solution, it does nothing to solve the problem of 'why are so many people breaking the laws?' Perhaps if we addressed that issue we might find a solution to the overcrowding in our prisons. Training these inmates to be responsible, productive citizens after their release and having companies actually hire them seems to be part of the solution to the overcrowding; but it is only part of the solution.

In most states, programs that are available to rehabilitate the inmates are being cut due to lack of financial resources. "In California, officials plan to cut $250 million a year from rehabilitation services ( Rothfeld, M., 2009)." With cuts like this in the prison systems, how can we expect to rehabilitate the number of inmates that so desperately need and want help? Some inmates are institutionalized and will reoffend soon after their release because they like the security of having their needs met without having to work for it, the vast majority of inmates though, would rather get out and start to live like any other person. The numbers of people who are going to serve time in prison are steadily rising. The rate at which those numbers are increasing is rather chilling. The following graphic show those number and the rate at which they are increasing.

Google Scholar. [2009] Prevalence of Imprisonment

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