By Jinnie Chua, Assistant Editor of In Public Safety
Time and time again, studies and reports describe how America’s prison system is broken. The United States still has the highest incarceration rate in the world, harsh sentencing for non-violent drug offenses continues to be debated, and rehabilitation efforts remain by the wayside. These concerns are underscored by the grim reality that two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years.
The cycle of recidivism has obvious financial consequences – the United States spends $80 billion a year on incarceration – but also points to deeper fractures within a system that over-emphasizes incarceration and does little to support ex-offenders returning to their communities.
“If we keep having high recidivism rates, why do we call it a ‘correctional’ system?” said Robert Hood, who has held four wardenships over the course of his 42-year career in corrections. “If you’re only focused on custody and not re-entry, you shouldn’t be working in this field.”
“You can’t be serious about changing a system if you’re not putting someone in there to take the lead,” said Hood. “Employees and inmates have no one to follow in attempts to develop re-entry initiatives.”
While systematic prison reform may yet be a long and uncertain road, Hood encourages all wardens to look at what they can do now. Introducing educational programs and preparing inmates for successful re-entry is not only a step towards reducing recidivism, but it’s also vital for creating a safer prison environment for both inmates and staff.