In the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” the characters “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) and Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore) are released from prison and attempt to re-enter society with little more than a set of clothes and the address of an apartment.
They cannot comprehend what to expect from life “on the outside.” No structure exists to show them how to adapt to their new freedoms, how to handle the pressure of self-reliance or how to resist the temptation of falling back into the only lives they really know.
The results are somewhat predictable.
In too many instances, real-life 2017 America is not far enough removed from Hollywood’s take on 1950s and 1960s America where felons are concerned: little forethought, little compassion, little chance of success outside of an institution.
Developments in the state of Ohio and the city of Canton on Thursday, though, reflect important attention and progress in addressing the needs of felons seeking a positive re-entry experience — while perhaps reducing the prison population at the front end of the criminal justice cycle.
In Columbus, state leaders and criminal justice experts announced the launching of a new effort to reduce Ohio’s prison population through an examination of crime, courts, probation and incarceration. The Associated Press reported that a yearlong study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center will analyze thousands of records to examine how sentences imposed for serious crimes affect not only prison populations but also life after prison.
We’re talking big numbers here. While the state’s prison population has leveled off in recent years amid efforts to curb overcrowded conditions, it still hovers around 50,000 inmates, costing Ohio taxpayers about $1.6 billion annually in the state corrections budget alone. Officials have tried for the past decade or so to reduce the prison population number by diverting nonviolent inmates to community-based correction and substance abuse treatment programs — with mixed results.
When inmates have served their time and are released back into our community, the Stark County Re-entry Court Program offers assistance and programming to improve the odds of successful job placement, and it monitors transitional care in the areas of anger management, chemical dependency treatment and sex offender treatment. In fact, Stark’s program works with felons long before they are released.
Of course, one of the big obstacles for former inmates attempting to re-enter society in a positive way is finding housing. Thursday in northeast Canton, advocates broke ground on a residential center that is expected to provide 75 beds when it is finished in about nine months.
The future Deion Cash Center for Change and will be attached to an existing office building on Tuscarawas Street E belonging to the Community Restoration Centers of Stark County, the organization that operated a similar halfway house on Market Avenue S.
The Cash residential center will be named in memory of Executive Director Chandra Bryant’s mother. Cash, who died in 2007, had been executive director of Community Restoration Centers’ predecessor.
“She did believe that people could change, that lives could change, that communities could change,” Bryant said of her mother at the groundbreaking.
As a society, we cannot incarcerate our way out of our existing challenges, particularly drug abuse and addiction. When felons have served their time, we need systems in place to make their re-entry more seamless and less likely to result in recidivism and a return to prison.
More forethought, more compassion, more chance of success outside of an institution. Developments last week offer encouraging signs.