“Ex-inmates life chances shrink because few institutions or programs are prepared to give them the tools and job training to get work and become productive citizens. Many become burdens to their families, and some end up homeless. A good number of ex-inmates develop mental problems, which often go untreated.”
— Come on People, by Bill Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint.
Nationally, 1600 men and women are released from prison each day. Many will return to communities throughout the country with no more education, programming or sense of purpose than when they arrived to prison. The burden to help and service these individuals falls on the public. Locally, the state of Ohio boasts to be one of the nation’s largest prison systems and releases more than 28,000 ex-offenders each year. However, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) has failed Ohio and Ohioans with its lax and meager standards in operation and programming for re-entry.
Ex-offenders are at the highest risk of committing a new crime or violating probation or parole immediately (within the first three months) following release from incarceration. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that within the first six months of release, almost 30% were rearrested and the rate increases to 44% within the first year. If Ohio wants to be a leader among states, it must do a better job of taking care of a potential segment of its most valuable commodity – its human capital. The fragmentation of services, lack of coordination, and leadership must be addressed. A clear focus, not dispersing of energies is needed in order to solve this problem.
The support and help of the public and private interests should be sought for inmates who are in need and desire quality programming that will enable them to be successful upon release, because well equipped and determined ex-offenders are less likely to return to a life of crime and help build the economy. The creation of a successful re-entry program enhances public safety, reduces costs and improves lives. Families and advocacy groups need to be diligent in making the best use of the limited programming and resources the prisons offer, but ODRC needs to get its act together and start educating the individuals they house as if they mattered. The cumulative effects of poor prisons for communities in which these ex-inmates return to is one very good reason why recidivism perpetuates.
I refuse to believe that the practices of ODRC are the best Ohio can offer inmates and their families in 2014. I’m urging taxpayers, political leaders, inmates and their families alike to speak their minds about the affairs of rehabilitation and corrections in Ohio. Inmates who feel that society has no positive role for them are likely to conclude they have nothing to lose by abandoning the difficult path of study, self-discipline, and rehabilitation for the instant gratification of prison life that lead, to the continuation of the street life that brought them to prison.