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Prisoner Reentry

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In the United States, a proximate 700,000 people are released from prison annually. Ex-prisoners are faced with a range of challenges that are compounded by obstacles to successful reentry such (i.e. credit and legal record) (Heller and Cook, 2010).  Rates of recidivism are high in most states. Criminology scholars and professionals in law enforcement tend to support the consensus that stable employment is critical to a successful transition. When ex-prisoners have been incarcerated for a number of years, the probability that they will find difficulty in finding steady work is high.

Risk-reduction to ex-offenders still part of the system of re-entry post prison are the subject to this discussion, which looks at complexities in both employment and protracted involvement in the legal system.  In Redcross’ (2010) Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration: One-Year Employment and Recidivism Results, she disseminates findings from a one-year impact study, Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration (TJRD), a four-site, random assignment evaluation of transitional jobs prisoner reentry programs in the Midwest. Hypothesis to the study: if the argument may be made for employment as the impetus to successful prisoner re-entry, the quality of services in job assistance should evidence intensity in effect.

The TJRD test model is based around transitional jobs, in four sites in the Midwest. The research draws upon the evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) transitional jobs program in the region in examination of a population of about 1,800 recently released former prisoners. Random assignment of the convenience sample to program groups, designated eligibility for transitional jobs services in comparison with the control group, which received only basic job search assistance. In the one year longitudinal study, the case was built using UI wage records and criminal justice records. Outcomes were not surprising to those in oversight of criminal justice re-entry mandates:  “the TJRD programs produced a large, but temporary increase in employment, which was driven by the transitional jobs” but reduction in returns to prison for parole violations early on were the only significant impacts on recidivism amongst both groups.

This reality of the study has important consequences for public safety, corrections costs, and the well-being of former prisoners and their families, argues Redcross. Employment programs do have an effect. The challenge is to extend those positive outcomes further into the future. Similar findings in a comparative study on the evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), a highly regarded employment program for 1,000 ex- prisoners in New York City. CEO participants placed in paid transitional jobs post enrollment are given a mentor and support options.

Part of the Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ project, sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, the New York conducted a comprehensive benefit-cost analysis, with findings pointing to reduced recidivism up to follow-up period.  Again, prisoner response was highest by those recently released from prison. Discrimination, economic disparities and parole restrictions are not discussed in the findings to either study.

Analysis of Problem

Once posed the question: what re-entry strategies work, the general answer is, “we don't really know” (Mauldin, 2007). To date, there are few comprehensive studies on employment-based prisoner re-entry models. As shown in the examination of the Midwest’s TJRD and New York CEO, the distance between success and recidivism once work is put in the path is only effective to a certain extent. Prison programs designed for older prisoners designed to create a safety net of services before and after release offer some hope that consistency in transition and financial incentives may promote the desired effect. Still, individual conduct and sentencing structure varies so greatly that outcomes are virtually unpredictable in simple random tests in consideration of more universal variables such as job search access.

What is interesting is the high prevalence of offenders to be employed at the time of arrest (Mauldin, 2007). This raises the suspicion that prejudice and regulatory or other barriers to employment are more impactful factors than that of ex-offender competency or normal labor market constraints. Despite the fervent interest of policymakers to create infrastructural mandates to reduce recidivism among ex-prisoners employment-based programs are only half the battle. In Washington State which share common policy provision to that of states in the Midwest region, Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law SB 6157 in 2007, requiring all offenders leaving prison to have a plan for employment and treatment prior to release (Mauldin, 2007). Four years later, the efficacy of this rule has proven germane in a context where prisons now stand vacant. As Gov. Gregoire articulated,

"We cannot continue to build more prisons. We must address the causes of crime and give former offenders the skills and treatment they need to stay out of prison [. . . ] Our goal must be to stop crime and keep our communities safe" (Gregoire, 2007).

Workforce development for ex-prisoners in the federal system follows this logic. The consensus is that if money is not available to help them find sufficient employment where they can support themselves and their families, more allocations for prison will be the result. For taxpayers, the latter is unproductive at best.

Incapacitation to Re-entry

Incapacitation of parties is the primary goal of criminal justice in response to commission of felonies and misdemeanor acts. To this end, sentencing is meant to block defendants from actively circulating in the community for a period of time. Re-entry from jail and prison of parties is the subject of this discussion, and the advancement of prisoner rehabilitation post incarceration. Although not nearly as large a prison population in states where the ‘culture’ of recidivism is a normative aspect to the relationship between former prisoners and the State in great numbers (i.e. California), in the Midwest of the United States, the sheer absence of a sizeable regionally sentenced population of prisoners comparatively offers insight into the distinctions between re-entry success. This also includes the increasing number of prisoners shipped to prisons in the Midwest from states with overcrowded facilities. Re-entry programs in prison and post incarceration at time of parole are significant to understanding the correlation between service provision, prisoner rehabilitation and recidivism.

There is a ‘punishment’ side to the parole relationship, where exited prisoners continue to sustain the goal of punishment within sentencing convictions in retribution to “the state” on behalf of victims whom have been harm in the commission of criminal acts – whether those acts are either intentional or inadvertent secondary felony or misdemeanor offenses upheld in relation to a target offense. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 offers provision to guidelines on criminal conviction, and sentences handed down may also be subject to enhanced state-to-state according to jurisdiction (i.e. gang enhancements). Enhancements translate to increase of standard criminal sentences of up to five times the level of punishment (i.e. 1 year enhances to 5 years) per target offense, and re-entry stipulations may put strict constraints on activities and parameter of circulation within radius from parole site. Therefore, this extends punishment in the impetus to limit the freedoms of convicted criminals by way of retraction of liberties (i.e. free association) up to fines and confinement in prison.

Due to the fact that ex-offenders were once literally removed from society for a stipulated time the incapacitation of convicted prisoners prohibits free association or at least partially to the point of non-normative living protocol. The house arrest scenario might include agreement by the ex-offender to wear an electronic tracking device. Psychological effects related to restrictions may impact prisoner competency and response to re-entry. Although public humiliation is violation in federal and international laws on the rights of prisoners, the efficacy of conviction as a “moral” punishment puts prisoner re-entry at risk. Rehabilitation of ex-offenders where hostility is present may have two serious implications: 1) continuance in commission of crimes and due process in conviction of criminal defendants; and 2) misuse of ‘social justice’ by citizens while those parties are State property. This is not uncommon, however, in spite of statutory prohibitions against such activities.  

The final phase in the system of prisoner corrections, rehabilitation as part of the entire scope of deterrence activities, puts self-rehabilitation into the sentencing mandate, so that secondary issues such as drug and alcohol use pertinent to the commission of crimes ‘under the influence’ are part of the prisoner’s parole experience. Time spent in court ordered rehabilitation programs might include residency or outpatient admission. As part of the sentence criteria, rehabilitation programs limit circulation typically, and are almost always considered to be obligatory to successful completion of those stipulations for release. Failure to do so means that ex-offenders whom have already served significant prison time and released successfully may  subsequently relapse to the effect that they : 1) either incur new charges for commission of criminal acts while using; or 2) fail to complete parole programs.

If the main goal of re-entry where the prisoner is concerned is to mitigate future recidivism, the Midwest has done a fair job at creating adequate re-entry programs to this effect. Even where inmates and prisoners deemed more likely to be incarcerated consecutively, and probation, parole, community service, or and payment of established fines for conviction of crimes, release rates are higher than elsewhere. ‘Deterrence’, then, as an objective within prison mandate, has worked to advance the excellence in the extended system of incapacitation in the Midwest. Programs specifically designed to instill deterrence behavior in convicted parties while intended to control further commission of criminal acts, the effectiveness of those measures varies. Judicial opinion in this regard is especially pronounced in family law cases that involve self-abuse patterns and drug court cases where much of the harm instigated is addiction related. 

Family Law in Re-entry

The recent enactment of new US legislation regarding parental custody, where a household has one or more documented offense of domestic violence, child abuse, or drug or alcohol related offenses committed by the mother, father, guardian, and/or caregiver, will result in the removal of any child or children from the home, is the point of consideration. In  announcement of the new policy, The Department of Job and Family Services makes reference to evidenced based outcomes on application of temporary or terminal retraction of the rights of parents in response to the stated issues of incompetency (Peoples Law Organization, 2010). Family law analysis in prisoner re-entry is substantial in the United States.  Where ex-offender parents are involved, emphasis on transmission of violence as described in social learning theory cites aggressive misconduct by children who “have parents who use similar tactics when dealing with others.”

In the United States, there is extensive argument about the ethical assumptions within law’s exercise. Perhaps nowhere is this seen more frequently than in the procedural framework of family law custody cases.  Extenuated moral correctives proffered by court ordered drug rehabilitation and mandated foster care placement  create a vacuum of rule enforcement for re-entry prisoners engaged with family law provisions designed to protect the ‘rights’ of the child (Dwyer, 1995).

When one or both parents of the child, and the child by proxy as a minor, are deemed to be without capacity to act, the court is obligated to intercede. The tenure of those decisions is often for the entire parole period, and sometimes post temporary placement of a child. Re-entry prisoners without sufficient external family support are often restricted from visitation due to conduct or even back child support payments incurred during incarceration. Children of re-entry prisoners placed with custodial guardian until the parent(s) are court mandated until the prisoner-parentis able to prove reasonable evidence that they have substantiated adult capacity to the court (Woody, 2000).

Without such unwavering legal articulation, advocacy on behalf of the child may be impossible. Parental response to this issue varies, as the stress of child care may be impossible for the re-entry prisoner. Where parents are in disagreement, the protection of the child is the sole concern of the court. Both short-term and long-term protections stemming from the child’s removal from an environment of violence are supported within most states and federal legislation dedicated to family law.  Opponents to what is conceded to be ‘zero-tolerance’ legislation argue that the new policy circumvents the child’s natural right to ‘family life.’ Proponents of the new legislation, retort that there is redemption in state custody in that overwhelming consistency in evidence identifies domestic violence as one of the most cited factors to child abuse, and to recidivism.   

The Gubernatorial Pardon Process

Uniformity in the law is in exceptional cases an instrument to ex-offender absolution of guilt in legal cases. The effects of legal certainty are of import to criminal cases as at the time of conviction defendants must be proven guilty in evidentiary proceedings beyond a reasonable doubt. According to the uniformity of the law, this one of the goals of sentencing due to the fact that undue punishment might not be sought for protection of the constitutional rights of the individual under consideration. When preponderance of evidence points to guilt, only to be proven as provocation later, re-entry prisoners may use the same instruments that put them behind bars to alleviate their record. For some prisoners, time spent under the hospices of law enforcement, prison warden and parole supervision is justly spent.

Details to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, Section 994(f) of the provision articulate the benefits to uniformity in law. The Act also wards against unwarranted sentence disparities “among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar criminal conduct.” Due to the dual element rule stipulation of mental state and act within criminal application, Federal Sentencing Guidelines shifted the focus in sentencing from the offender to the offense so that there is some flexibility in discernment of conduct and guidelines. If so, there must be clearly stated reasons within the record of the decision, and rule adherence is in fact one of the more effective points of argument in regard to decisions deemed “unfair” on appeal. Unfortunately for ex-offenders discriminated out of employment, time spent in this regard may still be more profitable. The Director’s Plan to Address the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry recommends programmatic correction: ex-offender law school preparation.

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