One of the first places state and federal governments look to make cutbacks in an attempt to balance their ballooning budgets is in the penal system. As a result, ex-offender re-entry programs that help rehabilitate those who are at risk for returning to prison are on the chopping block.
Sure, cutting funding to these programs may help balance budgets in the short term. But, as ex-offenders become repeat offenders and return to jail or prison, we end up shelling out more money in the long run to incarcerate them. Additionally, communities and individuals will continue to be victimized by crime and trapped in seemingly never ending cycle.
Recently, USA Today reported on these cutbacks and the impact they could have on states across the country. Florida, for example, saw a small decrease in the number of ex-offenders who committed a new felony while on probation.
Instead of looking at the bigger picture and continuing to invest in programs designed to reduce recidivism, Florida, in an attempt to get its fiscal house in order, plans to cut such programs. Other states are also weighing significant budget cuts to all parts of their criminal justice systems.
This is just bad business. In many states, the number of ex-offenders committing new crimes has increased, partly because of cuts to programs that help them transform their lives and stay out of prison.
Any state considering such cuts should look to Michigan for guidance. Budget gaps and increasingly high unemployment rates have lead lawmakers there to address both problems with a novel plan: help ex-offenders find and keep jobs that will keep them out of prison. According to a report by the Institute for Research on Poverty, Michigan has used job placement programs to cut the prison population by about 15 percent over the last four years and saved more than $200 million each year.
Here’s hoping other locales will follow Michigan’s lead. With your help, maybe they can. Call or write your county, state and federal legislators and demand they not be so short sighted; ask that they avoid making budget cuts to prison reentry programs at all costs.
In these difficult economic times, it is only reasonable that lawmakers conserve resources where they can. The criminal justice system, particularly ex-offender reentry programs, is not the place to make these cuts. Our lawmakers must think about the effect these budget reductions will have on our overall safety and the economic impact they will have on taxpayers down the road.
(Judge Greg Mathis is vice president of RainbowPUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)