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Vengeance Meets Recidivism

By Jimmy Franks

As vote-hungry politicians and vengeance-minded citizens continue to make it increasingly difficult for parolees to successfully reintegrate into society, prison recidivism remains a problem of epic proportions. Viewed objectively, the correlation between these two phenomena is readily apparent, although no one seems intent upon making any positive changes in how parolees are treated upon release. As a matter of fact, the trend is seemingly just the opposite.

In Kansas, for example, a greater number of parolees are required to have “REGISTERED OFFENDER” prominently displayed in bold red letters on their driver’s licenses. When the practice first began, it was targeted at sex offenders in an attempt to “protect” society by offering this alert of a possible sexual predator, but the mandate soon expanded to include many violent crimes and now even some drug offenses. The problem with this blanket alienation is the negative impact it has on a parolee’s ability to obtain suitable housing and employment. Even a person determined to never return to prison upon their release may often be driven back to crime by the frustration, bitterness and despair brought on by society’s apparent refusal to allow them to earn a living through legal means.

Of course, safeguards must exist to insure public safety, but there must also be sufficient opportunities available for parolees to demonstrate their desire and ability to live a productive life. The en bloc castigation and alienation of an increasingly larger percentage of the American public will ultimately only work to our nation’s detriment. High recidivism rates should be ample evidence that a change of perspective is warranted.

Instead of implementing more draconian restrictions on a wider variety of crimes, state legislators, criminal justice officials and even advocates for prisoners and victims’ rights organizations must face the current reality of our severely ailing criminal justice system. More focus must be placed on developing successful reintegration programs for parolees, including counseling for those who display difficulty adjusting to the rigors of personal responsibility and a productive lifestyle. After all, people are incarcerated as punishment for a crime: they are released when their term of punishment has been satisfied and they are deemed fit for reintegration into society. Hampering that reintegration generates more harm than good.

SOURCE: The Kansas City Star (Feb. 1, 2009).

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