The American penal system is among the world’s largest, with its incarcerated population swelled by low-level drug offenders and parole violators. Many will be rearrested within three years of release, with half of these arrests for nonviolent, technical violations of parole, at considerable financial cost to the states. Once released, those who have been incarcerated face a number of challenges to their self-sufficiency, with additional economic and social costs paid by families, communities, and the nation.
A national approach to support prisoner reentry would help prevent recidivism and enable the formerly incarcerated to establish productive livelihoods. After providing work training and transitional services for soon-to-be-released inmates, the proposed program would provide housing and employment for up to one year post release, alongside drug treatment and mental health services. Corresponding reforms include those within the parole system that would limit reimprisonment for technical violations and those that would limit collateral consequences, such as some offenders being denied various forms of social safety net aid typically offered to low-income Americans.
Around 700,000 mostly low-income and minority men and women are released from prison each year. Returning to lives of low wages and high rates of unemployment, about two thirds will be rearrested within three years. I propose a national prisoner reentry program whose core element is up to a year of transitional employment available to all parolees in need of work. Transitional jobs are supplemented by substance-abuse treatment and housing after release, expanded work and educational programs in prison, and the restoration of eligibility for federal benefits for those with felony records. The program costs are offset by increased employment and reduced crime and correctional costs for program participants. By shifting supervision from custody in prison to intensive programs in the community, the national reentry program improves economic opportunity and reduces prison populations.