Thursday, June 19, 2008


My employer hires a lot of ex-cons.
Most of these parolees try incredibly hard to avoid returning to prison.
Many of them fail.

This editorial by Jason Ziedenberg ran in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about three years ago. (I was obsessively clipping excellent newspaper articles long before I began blogging.) Ziedenberg accurately predicted that Martha Stewart would have an easy transition from prison to home to successful career. Then he looked at the other 600,000 less fortunate people who are released from prison every year. Here are a couple of the vital paragraphs:

The other 600,000 people who leave prison every year are generally not so lucky. As the prison and jail system tripled over the 1980s, from 500,000 to more than 2 million, policy-makers cut education, job training and treatment programs in prison. As a result of those cuts — a direct consequence of directing corrections funds to build more prisons — people are leaving prison less prepared for life on the outside, and with less assistance from the parole system to help people get a job, get back into school and to return successfully to their lives crime-free.

No surprise, then, we are seeing a growing number of formerly incarcerated people being returned to prison for parole violations and new offenses, ensuring that the exit from prison is nothing more than a turn-style door leading right back inside.

I believe that Ziedenberg got it basically right, but missed the bulls-eye. People don't return to prison because of programs being cut. They return to prison because one particular group's programs are beautifully maintained.

Let's assume that the following statements are true:

1) Policies and systems should be evaluated in terms of the incentives they create, rather than judged by their stated goals and objectives.

2) Newly released prisoners are obligated to meet with parole officers at inconvenient locations, inconvenient times, and as often as the parole officer deems necessary. The ex-con often has to pay the parole officer a supervision fee. Failure to jump through any of these hoops often means a return to prison.

Statement number one is a distillation of Dr. Thomas Sowell's "Basic Economics", and therefore carries at least the same level of infallibility as the Book of Leviticus. Number two comes from my experience working with ex-cons. Statement number three isn't vital to my argument, and is my opinion only. Here goes....

3) The parole system is a "make work" program for unemployed sociology majors.

Ok, on with the argument. Look at the ex-cons in your workplace. If there aren't any, ask yourself why not, since the streets are full of them.
Could it be that having to leave the workplace in the middle of the day (for idiotic parole meetings) discourages employers from giving these people jobs? And requiring people to pay "supervision fees" when they're fortunate if they can find a minimum wage job, is this nothing more than a good way to encourage ex-cons to steal?

The stated goal of these programs? To help ex-cons return to society.
The hidden incentives of these programs? There are abolutely no rational incentives in place to encourage people to hire ex-cons. The parole system makes it almost impossible. The decision to do hire a parolee comes loaded with a hundred headaches.
And how would you feel about living next door to an ex-con who has to come up with extra parole officer money every few weeks?

Every ex-con I've ever hired has been required to follow a program that is virtually guaranteed to keep them flirting with unemployment, discouragement, and theft.

Our system is designed to create failure and recidivism.
Our government social workers/parole officers guarantee themselves full employment with an expanding "client base".
And now the United States has the world's highest incarceration rate.


I think not.


zbethwalker said...

Mr. W.s.
I agree whole heartedly with what you are saying, despite having created an inordinant amount of unemployed sociology majors. (I taught them.)

How about ranting about the war on drugs. That is what is producing the increase in incarceration. Some call it the police department's buffalo.

TomG said...

Just saw this letter-to-the-editor in this morn's paper:

Later, when walking in Corcord, MA saw they were raffling for one of those new Smart Cars (got to sit in it - very nice), and they were handing out info on their organization - which I just found these sites on:

Their restorative justice programs focus on both the victims of crime as well as the offenders - providing the latter with "the respect and opportunity to address the impact of their offense" per their brochure.
Cheers, Tom

subadei said...

Well said Allen. And I wholeheartedly agree with zbethwalker on the failed war on drugs. It's side effects transcend our own domestic troubles and create a global scourge of instability, states like Columbia, Peru, Mexico where the state is at constant war with drug cartels and narcotic fueled separatist guerrilla's.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Zbeth's statement about the war on drugs being "the police department's buffalo" has echoed in my head all day.

Anonymous said...

God help us if we don't go after those non-violent drug users who are productive members of society!

Interestingly, are judicial system is set up to forgive and give people chances to redeem themselves (Thats why we let pedophiles back on the street. Why give people a second, or third, chance on life if we are making nearly impossible for them to succeed? Seems counter intuitive...