Via CrimProf blog I found this fine article by John Rakis from the June 2005 Federal Probationer, showing how barriers to employment, in particular, contribute to recidivism. I thought his recommendations were dead on:
1. Criminal justice agencies should provide a continuum of employment-related services to offenders from admission into prison through their release into the community. ...Holding parole officers and agency heads accountable for parolees' employment and recidivism rates is a great idea. The same notion could be implemented for those on probation, too. If offenders can't get a job, that's not just their problem, or their family's, but a problem for all of us because, in the end, they're likely to commit more crimes just to purchase groceries and pay rent. Ensuring that doesn't happen is as important -- maybe more so -- than making more arrests.
2. Parole agencies should measure the employment rate of persons under their supervision and report these rates on a quarterly basis. ...
3. State agencies should use the employment rates of the persons under their supervision as an indicator for measuring the performance of parole officers. ...
4. A universally accepted definition of recidivism should be adopted by state criminal justice agencies and used to benchmark the effectiveness of their efforts. The executive and legislative branches of government should set goals for the reduction of recidivism and hold agency heads accountable for achieving those objectives.
Meanwhile, the Austin Re-Entry Roundtable -- a collaboration of government and non-profit agencies banded together to help prisoners reintegrate into society after incarceration -- came out last month with it's own plan (pdf) for improving offenders' employment options. Most of it's still in the earliest stages, but the group intends to:
- Survey local employers and nonprofits to recruit potential employers for felons.
- Help offenders receive educational opportunities while incarcerated, especially GED programs.
- Look into giving offenders limited access to the Internet, ,job fairs and other venues to look for work before they're actually released.
- Determine feasibility of offering an in-prison work program at the Travis State Jail.
- Research best practices to identify new ideas for boosting employment.
What happens to ex-prisoners when they're released -- particularly whether they're able to secure a job and housing -- should be the criminal justice system's most critical concern. After all, that's where the real public safety benefit comes, in theory -- from causing offenders to change their behavior after they've finished their punishment. The system has broken down, though, and nobody's making sure these folks can find employment or even have someplace to stay. Under those circumstances, a return to crime is as predictable as the eastern sunrise.
The system would work a lot better if, following the recommendations from Federal Probationer, Texas parole officers and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice were formally held accountable for their charges' employment status. Maybe in 2007 the Legislature can be convinced to adopt such a measure.
See also: Ex-offenders optimism crushed by state indifference