United States Department of Education Update

By Linton, John | Journal of Correctional Education, December 2004 | Go to article overview

United States Department of Education Update


Linton, John, Journal of Correctional Education


There continues to be very significant energy around the concept of prisoner reentry, at least at the national level. I see this as extremely positive. Federal agencies sponsored a national conference on prisoner reentry this fall. United States Attorney General John Ashcroft offered a major address on prisoner reentry in which he made the case for a concerted effort utilizing a balanced approach. On the one hand, returning offenders should be subject to criminal justice supervision backed with a range of available sanctions. On the other hand, offenders should be able to access preparatory programming and a range of support services. He argued that both parts of this equation contribute to public safety. The words of tough law enforcement officials exhorting us to "do the right thing" with returning offenders should help correctional educators make their case in a challenging fiscal environment.

This is a key section of the Attorney General's remarks (Cleveland, Ohio, September 20, 2004):

Just as critical to our success in keeping the rate of violent crime at historically low levels is ensuring that the men and women who have served their time, and who are released from prisons and jails, will be productive, law-abiding citizens.

We must acknowledge that public safety ... and the public good ... does not end with the clang of the prison cell door. For many men and women who are incarcerated, prison time is not the end of the line. More than 90 percent of inmates currently serving time will one day re-enter society. On average, more than 600,000 individuals are now being released from prison each year.

We know that, compared to the general population, former prisoners re-entering communities have serious substance-abuse histories. They suffer from serious physical and mental illness at a much higher rate than the public at large. These prisoners are more poorly educated, and lack the necessary skills and training to get a job. Many returning offenders suffer from a combination of these factors.

We know from long experience that if they cannot find work, or a home, or help, these men and women are much more likely to return to crime and, eventually, return to prison. Studies show that significant numbers of prisoners ... as many as two-thirds of those released each year ... will commit a serious offense within three years of their release.

So it goes without saying that re-entry success or failure has implications for public safety and a community's health. Successful re-entry can actually prevent and deter future criminal acts. Effective re-entry programs also help individuals who have paid a debt to society to return to their communities, to make up for lost ground, and to redeem themselves. A strong and successful re-entry program presents the best opportunity for inmates to become solid citizens upon release. …

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