Back from prison, and into what?
Each year, 25,000 people leave New York state prisons and another 100,000 leave local jails. Not only do they deserve a second chance, having paid their debt to society, but society has a big interest in seeing they don’t commit another crime and go back. The best way to prevent that is to help them successfully re-enter the community.
Gov. Cuomo has already shown he knows this with a job training and placement program called “Work for Success.” The state Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration he announced in his State of the State address, which will promote that model, is further evidence.
While prisoners may be released only with the clothes they arrived with, they carry some heavy baggage. One burden is their record, which can stigmatize them and make it difficult to get housing, certain kinds of jobs, public assistance, and educational loans. Others are the things that may have contributed to their incarceration in the first place: lack of education, drug, alcohol or mental health problems.
In the past, these different issues have been dealt with separately by the various state and local agencies and nonprofit service providers. More recently, after seeing the success of programs like Peter Young Industries of Schenectady, which combines addiction treatment, housing, vocational training and job placement, the state has been promoting a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach.
The federal government has been encouraging the same through grants. In September 2013, New York received a $12 million grant from the U.S. Labor Department to fund a “Work for Success” project designed to increase employment and reduce recidivism among 2,000 formerly incarcerated individuals. For this project the state has two partners. One is the Center for Employment Opportunities, a nonprofit with offices in New York City and Albany (where 225 ex-convicts are trained to work for the state Office of General Services). The other is Social Finance US, which sells “social impact bonds” to investors, who are paid back from the savings to the state if the programs are successful.
And there’s plenty of money to be saved when a prisoner returns to his community and family, gets a job and becomes a taxpaying, productive member of society, rather than a threat to it and burden on it.