Faced with soaring prison costs, states are finally focusing on policies that would help former prisoners stay out of jail after they are released. Some legislatures are reshaping laws that land parolees back inside for technical violations that should be dealt with on the outside. More than a dozen cities and counties have taken steps that make it easier for qualified ex-offenders to land government jobs, except in education and law enforcement and other sensitive areas from which people with convictions are normally barred by law.The specific example they consider is New Jersey, but Texas has also led in throwing people into jail and now is starting to try to do something about ex-prisoners once they get out. Paying as much per prisoner as would cost to send them to college, in a time of chronic budget shortfalls, is not very attractive. Georgia could also make changes to reduce recidivism, and reduce its prison population.
Still, the nation as a whole needs to do much more about laws that marginalize former offenders — and often drive them back to jail — by denying them voting rights, parental rights, drivers licenses and access to public housing, welfare and food stamps, even in cases where they have led blameless lives after prison.
Prisoners have to be released from prison or the county jail into the same community, and can’t get a job because they’re ex-cons, and often not even an apartment. Result? Homeless ex-cons turning to crime. A New York Times editorial suggests Smart Answers to Recidivism: