The objective of this research is to examine recidivism rates and causes for recidivism. According to the work of Moak, Lawry, and Webber (2007) "The United States prison system is one of the worst prison systems in the world. In comparison to other countries, the United States has more individuals incarcerated per person than any other." (Moak, Lawry, and Webber, 2007) The incarceration rate in the United States as of 2006 is reported to be at a rate of "1 out of 136 adults." (Moak, Lawry and Webber, 2007) The 'World Prison Population List' demonstrates that while some countries have similar incarceration rates, most of the countries in the world have rates that are much lower rates. (Moak, Lawry and Webber, 2007, paraphrase) It is reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that researchers "…following a cohort of state prison inmates released in 1994 found that 67.5% of those discharged were rearrested within three years. This represents an increase of 5% over a similar study of prisoners released in 1983. Additionally, 46.9% of released prisoners were reconvicted for a new crime within three years and 51.8% were reincarcerated, either serving a new sentence or having committed a technical violation of their parole conditions. The decreasing emphasis on prison programs intended to provide skills training and counseling for prisoners for their eventual reentry into the community is leaving released inmates largely unprepared to successfully reintegrate into society." (The Sentencing Project, 2009) Furthermore, most arrests are reported to happen within the first year of the offender's release and "a significant portion of arrests results in a conviction and the individual's return to prison." (The Sentencing Project, 2009)
I. Release of Prisoners Back Into Society & Reintegration
This high rate of incarceration indicates that many adults will be relapsed in the near future back into society however, "due to the stigma that has been associated with having spent a portion of a life in prison, or even just having a criminal record in general, these newly released ex-prisoners are finding it increasingly difficult to reenter the workforce." It is reported as well that "Ex-offender reintegration programs, whether they start during or after incarceration, are a major challenge that have not achieved much progress or success in the United States in the past twenty years, as shown by the high recidivism rate of approximately 70%." (Moak, Lawry, and Webber, 2007)
When an individual is released from prison, it only makes sense that the system should assist them with integration back into the society to enable them to become a productive member of the workforce instead of simply becoming a "..drain on the economy. The harder this is for someone who has lived a life a delinquency, the easier it is for them to give up and go back to what comes easy." (Moak, Lawry, and Webber, 2007) The work of Joel Dyer entitled "The Perpetual Prisoner Machine" states that prisons are filling up faster with no effort being made to stop this trend and that this trend can be blamed on "fiscal reasons, cultural outlook and extreme punishments for many non-violent offenders." (cited in: Moak, Lawry, and Webber, 2007)
Dyer holds that the primary reason that no effort is being made to prevent incarceration are financial related "…due to money being put towards making prisons to deal with the large prison population instead of towards rehabilitation. He not only explains that there is not much being done to change this, but also that he believes that at the rate we are going, in 20 years our funding for prisons will rise to the point where it will "…result in… the consumption of most of the tax dollars now being collected by our state governments." (Moak, Lawry, and Webber, 2007)
The right to vote has been removed in 48 states for those who are serving time for felonies and upon the release of the offenders some states are continuing to deny the right to vote while the individuals are on probation or parole. Moreover, two U.S. states permanently deny the right to vote following incarceration. This results in much less pressure being placed on politicians to assist ex-offenders The high recidivism rate could be attributed to this lack of representation since those affected by the problem are not able to actively participate in government." (Moak, Lawry, and Webber, 2007)
Moak, Lawry, and Webber (2007) state that the prison industrial complex "…is not only a set of interest groups and institutions; it is also a state of mind. The lure of big money is corrupting the nation's criminal-justice system, replacing notions of safety and public service with a drive for higher profits. The eagerness of elected officials to pass tough-on-crime legislation -- combined with their unwillingness to disclose the external and social costs of these laws -- has encouraged all sorts of financial improprieties." (Moak, Lawry, and Webber, 2007)
II. Re-Entry Program -- Ready4Work
The primary program that has been implemented for offender's reintegration into society upon release is the "Re-entry Initiative, sometimes referred to as Ready4Work, which was established in 2004 in President Bush's State Of The Union address. This program aimed to assist ex-offenders by enrolling them in various employment-based programs that would hopefully increase their worth in the job market in future years." (Moak, Lawry, and Webber, 2007) A report was completed on the Re-entry Initiative programs success following two years in operation.
Findings show that the program functions by:
"…contacting prisoners while they are still in prison. They do this by developing relations with Department of Correction officers so that they can make contact with the prisoners earlier in the hopes that this will have a greater effect on the actions they take when they leave. The program consists of training programs for many areas including a job readiness course that involves a series of workshops designed to improve skills such as interviewing, resume writing, work attitudes, and behavior. In addition to this the program assigns each participant a caseworker that regularly meets with the ex-offender in order to make sure they are still on the appropriate track to success. The caseworker is an integral part of the program and as a result of this, has caused the program to be likened to parole in some cases." (Moak, Lawry, and Webber, 2007)
III. New Jersey 'Historic Package of Bills'
It was reported January 11th, 2010 that the state of New Jersey Legislature passed "a historic package of bills -- with broad bipartisan support -- that will stop the revolving door of recidivism…" (The Sentencing Project, 2010) The provisions of the bill include the following:
(1) Strengthening Women and Families Act (A4197/S1347)
This lifts the ban on food stamps and TANF benefits for individuals with felony drug convictions who have dependent children, which will leverage federal funding, saving state dollars, to support families as well as provide federal dollars to support treatment to keep addicts off drugs, away from crime, and from returning to prison.
This further establishes a commission to strengthen bonds between incarcerated parents and their children.
In addition this encourages incarcerated individuals to be placed in facilities as close as possible to family. (The Sentencing Project, 2010)
(2) Education and Rehabilitation Act (A4202/S11)
Makes a requirement of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) to ensure that incarcerated individuals attain the 12th-grade education proficiency level.
Conducts a review of vocational programs in order to meet demand job skills and standards.
Placement of all incarcerated individuals with less than two years before release in community corrections. (The Sentencing Project, 2010)
(3) Reduction of Recidivism Act (A4201/S502)
This makes provision to individuals leaving prison with written notification of fines, outstanding warrants, voting rights, and expungement options; a government-issued ID card; birth certificate; a list of prison programs participated in; medical records; Social Security card; medication; a one-day bus or rail pass; and a rap sheet.
This eliminates the post-release Medicaid enrollment gap.
This requires the NJDOC to report to the Governor and Legislature on the results of recidivism-reducing measures. (The Sentencing Project, 2010)
IV. Basic Principles to Consider
The Sentencing Project reported in 2009 that the United States incarcerates a higher number of individuals than does any other country in the world. In addition, "policymakers regularly increase the number of crimes and the length of criminal sentences. We imprison children with increasing frequency, sometimes to serve the rest of their lives in confinement. Our prison system is filled with non-violent offenders for whom other responses would be both more effective and more just. Some of our prisons are not just overcrowded, they are bursting at their seams, causing unsafe conditions for inmates and guards." (The Sentencing Project, 2009) The Sentencing Project states the following basic principles that should be considered when considering a reform to the criminal justice system:
(1) Fairness and Accuracy -- The criminal justice system should treat individuals fairly by providing access to all safeguards and services afforded both by law and common sense. Such…