Saturday, May 13, 2006

Americans think re-entry programs reduce recidivism

Maybe I just don't accept good news well, but I'm not sure how I feel about this Zogby poll. On the one hand, I'm comforted by the fact that Zogby found Americans are abandoning a "punishment only" approach to crime to focus more on redemption, rehabilitation and funding for re-entry programs.

On the other hand, I've started to notice that statistics overstating the dangers of crime are routinely touted even by those sympathetic to reform. In this case, pollsters told respondents 60% of felons leaving prison are likely to return there, while in Texas, for example, the
three-year recidivism rate is just 28.3%.

Still, the overall sense of the survey confirms that the public's expectations regarding criminal justice policy are shifting. By these measures it appears the pendulum is swinging back from the most extreme "tough on crime" approaches toward more pragmatic, preventive ones. Here's an excerpt from Zogby's summary:

Three out of four Americans expressed either fear or concern about the 700,000 prisoners who are leaving U.S. prisons each year, and the fact that 60% of them are likely to commit crimes that send them back to prison, Zogby International’s national survey showed. The poll explored what people think ought to be done about the situation.

The survey, sponsored by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a leading criminal justice research organization, reveals that by almost an 9 to 1 margin (87% to 11%), the U.S. voting public is in favor of rehabilitative services for prisoners as opposed to a punishment only system. Of those polled, 70% favored these services both during incarceration and after release from prison.

Likely voters appear to recognize that our current correctional system does not help the problem of crime, the survey indicates. By strong majorities, Americans said they feel that a lack of life skills, the experience of being in prison, and the many obstacles faced upon reentry are major factors in the crimes that prisoners commit following their release.

By an overwhelming majority (82%), people feel that the lack of job training and job opportunities were significant barriers to those released prisoners who wanted to avoid committing subsequent crimes. Similar large majorities saw the lack of housing, medical and mental health services, drug treatment, family support and mentoring as additional barriers and thought that all of these services should be available to returning prisoners. Most of the respondents felt that these reentry services needed to be introduced to prisoners long before they are released.
The public appears far ahead of the politicians on this one, except maybe Karl Rove and President Bush (who notably touted re-entry programs for prisoners in a State of the Union address). Neither party, though, has been able to capitalize on political support for these reforms. Too many Democrats fear being labeled soft on crime, while not enough Republicans picked up the President's mantle after that SoU address to really have an impact.

This poll shows there's political hay to made being smart instead of "tuff" on crime if politicians can muster the courage to take up the cause. The public can plainly see what we're doing now isn't working.

Effective Solutions for Texas


OP said...

Secure, well managed community-based correctional programs should be a linchpin in any anti-crime, pro-public safety policy. This shouldn't be a left-right issue. The key to the effectiveness of such programs is oversite however. Thanks for the multi-cultural kind comments on my blog Grits.

Trouble said...

Recidivism is not the sole factor by which reduction in crime is judged. Crime rates in many communities have fallen, possibly as a result of incarcerating those most predisposed to commit crimes.

Proper anti-crime strategy blends both elements: Removing those who pose a danger to the community from the streets so they can do no harm to innocents, and providing habiliation services while incarcerated (I don't even say rehab anymore because some of these offenders were so improperly socialized in the first place that there's no re- about it.