In response to Daniela Caride’s article “A record for life: Ex-cons battle overwhelming obstacles, odds” (Sept. 18, 2008): Thanks for highlighting the obstacles along the journey for the prison reentry process. For the past three decades, SPAN Inc. has offered crucial support services to men and women returning to the community. The three case studies referenced in your article illustrate the significant issues that must be confronted to prevent the revolving door cycle.
The acknowledgement of those issues — lack of education, substance abuse problems, very little employment history or opportunities, no solid family or community network — is significant. But specific policies must change to truly ensure folks returning to the community will have a chance to succeed and society is kept safe.
Reentry must be initiated after the judge imposes the sentence. Additional funding may not be necessary; rather, a simple change in Department of Correction (DOC) philosophy and priorities would produce actual success at a fraction of the cost to taxpayers. Outside of sending drug addicts to treatment rather than prison, for those who are already there, one key change would be to move away from placing the majority of prisoners in maximum-security confinement when less costly medium- and minimum-security or community-based placement would suffice and be much more effective. We know access to educational programs, family and community services, and halfway houses, as well as the capacity to be hopeful, are features of a positive reentry initiative. These cost-effective measures — which have been proven successful — are what should be implemented.
Lastly, the Banner may need to verify the “20 percent recidivism rate” quoted by DOC Commissioner Harold Clarke. This number seems quite low, considering men and women are usually released with fewer resources than they had going into prison, not to mention a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) report to contend with upon release that just about extends their sentences to life. Repeat offenders, parole and probation violators, and those with a 52A status (pretrial detainees with prior prison records) are filling the cellblocks for reasons already mentioned. But I thank the Banner for the article nonetheless, and hope it will continue to publish stories about such critical issues that severely impact our community.
Bay State Correctional Center