Are ever-increasing sentences the best answer to repeated criminal behavior? An editorial in today's New York Times points to a report prepared for the Council of State Governments that "argues that the country needs to reinvent its corrections system." The report suggests that governments should take steps to help offenders avoid a return to crime after their release from prison as the best hope of reducing recidivism.
This line of thinking is long overdue. The United States has 2.1 million people behind bars on any given day .... The portrait of the inmate population offered in the report leaves no doubt as to why two-thirds of the people who leave prison are rearrested within a few years. These people were marginally employable before they went to jail - nearly half earned less than $600 a month. They are even less employable afterward, thanks to criminal records. In addition, many of them suffer from mental illnesses that often go untreated after release.
Providing help with housing, employment, and mental health care might break the cycle that returns offenders to prison -- at a huge cost to society -- again and again. It's time for state governments to give serious thought to the proposals advanced in the report. (Executive summary here.)
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