A HARD STRAIGHT
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The Revolving Door

What is Recidivism? 
 
According to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, recidivism is “a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior, especially [a] relapse into criminal behavior.” 

In the criminal justice system, the term is used in regards to those who are re-arrested, re-convicted and re-incarcerated after being released from prison.

Aaron Shepard stands in front of a building on a San Francisco street and looks at the camera.

Regina Allen stands with several other residents in a room at the Milestones program.

Making Reentry Work: A Case Study
The Delancey Street Foundation

Non-profit organizations across the U.S. help parolees gain resources and reenter society after their release from prison. One example of such a rehabilitation program is The Delancey Street Foundation, which, like Regina Allen’s Milestones program featured in A HARD STRAIGHT, is based in San Francisco. With a mission to help ex-convicts reclaim their lives and reenter society, Delancey Street opened its doors in 1971 with four residents and a thousand-dollar loan. Thirty years later, Delancey Street has helped over 14,000 people turn their lives around by creating an environment where they can get an education, learn marketable skills and develop confidence to become law-abiding citizens.

Centered within a full city block complex of stylish townhouses and foundation-run businesses, more than 400 residents (all program participants) live and work, pooling all of their income. There are not punitive controls on day-to-day lives or locked doors, but three rules are strongly enforced: no violence, no threats, and no drug or alcohol abuse. There is no professional staff, so each resident take on the responsibility of teaching new arrivals their skills through any of the foundations businesses. A key belief here is that people learn by doing. Everyone has a job, learns new skills and gets an education. After an average stay of four years (there is a two-year commitment), residents gain an academic education, three marketable skills, accountability and a chance for success.

The Delancey Street Foundation is a $20 million non-profit enterprise with businesses and training schools in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Mexico, North Carolina and New York—all created without the help of public funding.

Sources

The Delancey Street Foundation

Grass-Roots.org

“A Community of Ex-Cons Shows How to Bring Prisoners Back Into Society”
By Adam Cohen
The New York Times, January 2, 2004

“Making Rehabilitation Into a Serious Business”
By John M. Glionna
The Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2002


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Two-thirds of parolees in the United States will return to prison within three years of their release due to a new crime or parole violation. In 2004 alone, 400,000 returned prisoners were parolees. Known as recidivism, this return back into the prison system increases every year, straining the already over-stretched prison system, state and federal budgets and weakening the foundation of many communities.

The high rate of recidivism is due in large part to a lack of rehabilitation inside prison and few established resources for parolees. Once an ex-convict is put on parole, they are given a small amount of money—substantially less than anyone might need to find adequate housing until they can get a job. As Aaron Shepard said in A HARD STRAIGHT, “I had $200 gate money coming out of prison. It’s hard, man. I feel the system gives you enough money just to hang yourself.” Parolees find themselves relying on old friends or living in homeless shelters, like Shepard did, and living in the same environment that may lead them to prison in the first place.

Aside from financial resources, parolees also lack access to basic necessities such as housing and medical care. A particular concern among parolees is substance abuse counseling. Eighty-three percent of inmates in state prisons have a history of drug abuse, according to Bureau of Justice statistics from 1999. Yet, finding proper treatment can be difficult for parolees, as depicted in A HARD STRAIGHT. When Regina Allen’s drug treatment program Milestones was closed down due to a lack of funding, she said: “It’s like they want you to go to prison. So many [addicts] that they’re putting out [of the program] are the ones who just came in here. [They] ain’t ready.”

For a large portion of parolees, education and vocational training are critical resources needed to help find jobs and successfully integrate them into society. Bureau of Justice statistics show that 45 percent of parolees have between a ninth and tenth grade education, while 13 percent are below an eighth grade level. Without basic educational skills, parolees will have more difficulty finding stable work and adequate wages to pay for necessities. Studies show that without a legitimate job and adequate income, a parolee is more likely to commit another offense.

Reentry Programs

Despite the challenges, there are programs available to help ex-convicts succeed in society, and the cause it getting increased attention. In President George W. Bush’s 2004 State of the Union address, he proposed $300 million over four years to help reentry programs through faith-based and community programs. That money earmarked for employment, transitional housing and mentoring programs as an expansion of a U.S. Department of Labor pilot project called Ready4Work.

Another government initiative underway is the National Governor Association’s Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy (PRRA). The PRRA is working in seven states to develop strategic prisoner reentry plans by coordinating state and federal agencies such as corrections, public safety, health and human services, welfare, workforce and housing. Their goal is to foster broader understanding of reentry issues, ultimately leading toward better sharing of best practices that lead to lower recidivism rate.

Some to the most robust programs to increase successful reentry are happening at the grassroots level. The Reentry National Media Outreach Campaign is a nonprofit collective working to highlight reentry issues by using the power and ubiquity of media to motivate and mobilize community action. Among the Campaign’s work are several documentaries for public television and resource guides for communities and parolees. The Campaign supports the work of faith-based and secular organizations to create discussion and action on issues that support healthy individuals and communities, and reverse the cycle of recidivism.


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