698,000 inmates were released from prison in the last 12 months. Most will be behind bars again by 2009. How can we keep more from returning?
Some 2.2 million people (one in every 136 U.S. residents) are doing time in prison, according to FBI statistics. Add to that number another 4 million or more on probation, parole, or awaiting trial in local jails. This past year, prison populations grew 4.7 percent—the largest annual growth spurt in nearly ten years.
As prison populations have soared, the number of prisoners who are freed has also increased significantly. Prisons free at least 600,000 each year.
But most freed inmates have few marketable job skills. The lack of a job is a major risk factor for an ex-offender to commit a new crime. Researchers say the repeat-offense rate nationally is stubbornly high, at more than 60 percent.
The Justice Department also recently noted that black men make up 41 percent of all inmates, and Hispanic women are 1.6 times more likely than white women to be imprisoned.
Pat Nolan, head of Justice Fellowship (a PF-affiliate), told CT, "Locking up prisoners without doing anything to change their moral perspective or give them skills to live crime-free when they are released has made us less safe rather than more.
PF's Earley told CT that he believes new approaches are required to attack the chronic problem of repeat offenders. Worship services in prisons are not enough. "What is increasingly needed today," he said, "is a one-on-one relationship and helping them with their life."
Release from prison is when the hard work begins. "The first 60 to 90 days is the real tipping point as to whether they're going to make it or not," said Earley.
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