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Reducing recidivism is good business

Published May 08. 2010 09:00AM

Dear Editor:

I am writing this letter as a response to the Saturday, April 24, Letter to the Editor entitled, "Why should jailbirds have so many rights?" I am a member of Yokefellowship Prison Ministry and am also the volunteer services coordinator for Carbon County Correctional Center which no matter what you may call it is still a jail. Webster's dictionary defines jail as "a place of confinement for persons held in lawful custody. It also defines jailbird as "a person confined in jail." So all correctional centers are jails, and all prisoners are jailbirds.

I am in Carbon County jail three or four times a week, along with the chaplain, his wife and many other volunteers. Classes are taught each week to help resident inmates (jailbirds) rebuild their lives to help them, hopefully, more successfully reenter our communities when their sentences are served. Along with Bible study classes are taught in parenting, anger management, stress, transition skills and job skills, such as resume writing, on line job applications, interview skills, bill paying and finance. Classes that address addictions are also given by AA, NA and Reformers Anonymous. Future classes are planned in GED and basic reading. All of these classes are taught by volunteers at no cost to the Carbon County taxpayer.

With all of this reentry preparation a sad fact emerges. The unemployment rate for ex offenders (ex jailbirds) is 40 to 60 percent. The national unemployment rate is nine to 10 percent. The reason for the high unemployment rate has nothing to do with their job skills or performance. Even though the ex offender (jailbird) served his or her jail sentence for his or her bad choice or choices and should return with a clean slate, there is still that question on every job application: "Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony? Explain. "Today's employers are reluctant to hire ex offenders (ex-jailbirds). In Williamsburg in colonial times there were no written employment applications.

Thus many who are released from jail are unable to find a job to pay their fines, support themselves and their family and children if they have them. Coming out of jail many have no money for rent, food or clothing. Thus, unfortunately, some resort to other means to make money. Nationally, one out of two people released from prison return within three years and 70 percent are committing crimes. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. With 10 million reported prisoners worldwide the U.S. with five percent of the world population has 2.3 million prisoners or almost 25 percent of the world's prisoners. One of 105 white males in the U.S. is behind bars. Tody they are approximately five million people in the U.S. on parole or on probation. In 1984 there were 1.6 million. In Pa. today there are nine federal, 27 state and 64 county prisons. The Pa. state prison population has increased 24 percent since 1999 to now more than 47,000. No. Crime is not going up. Our laws and sentencing guidelines have become stricter since the 1990s with the war on drugs. Even the percent of alcohol in the blood by statute become less and less for one to be convicted of DUI. The purge time per conviction by the DOT concerning ones driver's license has also increased from seven to 10 years. The sentencing guideline has become stricter so that now if you have two convictions within 10 years you will go to jail and lose your driving privileges for a year.

To conclude: making life more miserable for the inmates (jailbirds) in our country. Prison will not reduce recidivism by somehow rehabilitating them. Believe me. I am in the prison three or four times a week, and life is plenty miserable for them there.

To change people they have to want to change inside. They can't be forced to change. If you want to reduce recidivism, hire them if you are an employer. They can even come to work for you with their own personal bond up to $25,000 at no cost to you. In some cases, tax credits will be available to you. Their slate is clean. They have served their time. Help volunteer in prison to help prepare them for a hopefully, successful reentry back into our communities. Reducing recidivism is good business. It costs tax money to maintain people in prison. Join a mentor program to help the ex offender with transportation for job search, parole requirements, and evening support classes. Reducing recidivism reduces future tax increases.

Steve Bond,

Mahoning Valley

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