Archive for Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Criminal cycles

Breaking the cycle of repeat offenders isn’t just a matter of building more prison cells.

February 26, 2008


In recent years, America's desire to "get tough" on crime has filled the nation's prisons. Incarcerating people who have committed crimes is intended to be a deterrent as well as a way, at least temporarily, to remove the problem from society.

But what happens at the end of an inmate's sentence? A recent column by David Broder offered a sobering statistic about our current prison population. "Twenty years ago," he wrote, "the total prison population of the country was 700,000. Next year alone, that many will be released from prison and, if past trends hold, nearly two-thirds will be rearrested."

It doesn't seem like we're making much headway. Most people convicted of a crime are imprisoned for a relatively short time. Unfortunately, in many cases, nothing seems to happen during that period that decreases the possibility they will commit crimes again once they get out. Either being in prison wasn't enough of a deterrent, or they just haven't learned the skills they need to live within the law.

It's a cycle that - if it isn't broken - will continue to increase both crime and the need for expanded prison space. There must be a better way.

Broder's column graciously notes the effort in Kansas prisons to reduce repeat offenders. The addition of vocational education and substance abuse programs and other measures have reduced the crime rate among Kansas parolees by 41 percent in the last five years.

On the local level, the Douglas County Jail also has a new staff member dedicated to helping inmates make the transition to life outside of jail. That means trying to make sure they have housing and maybe a job. In many cases, it also may mean connecting them with doctors or counselors that can help them continue treatment for substance abuse or mental health issues. Without that treatment, many will simply end up on the street and back in jail.

Inmates with mental illness are a special problem that demands special attention. Thousands of mentally ill Kansans currently are being housed in jails and prisons across the state, often for minor crimes, some of which may have been committed for the express purpose of landing them in a secure, warm jail cell. There is no room for them in one of the state's three remaining mental hospitals, where they might receive stabilizing treatment.

Helping inmates with mental illness or simply with the life skills they need to live a law-abiding life is a good investment for the state. Sending criminal offenders to prison is a short-term solution. The longer term goals of reducing crime and prison populations requires that punishment be paired with meaningful planning and preparation for a successful life on the outside.


Fred Whitehead Jr. 10 years, 2 months ago

Well, this is unusual. The JW worrying about criminals who are released from jail. Most good God-fearing Chrisian folks will tell you the best solution for this, their preacher probably told them so. Shoot them, lock them up and lose the key, we don't have no need for criminals, get rid of them for good. This is the closet thinking of most joe-six-pack types. Hence, the repeat offenders. Persons who do time cannot find jobs, housing (the Lawrence Housing Athority refuses to assist convicted felons, it is on their web-site) Most businesses will not even consider job appilicants with a "criminal history". The space under the bridge is getting crowded. And as for the mentally-ill, well, there are "good " solutions for them. Two are dead in Lawrence from local law enforcement that cannot be educated about methods to handle mentally-ill people and who will take full advantage of mentally-ill persons to intimidate and cooerce them. It is a difficult and seemingly endless problem so long as we have the billy-bob attitude that all persons who are convicted should be locked up forever and or shot on sight.

geekin_topekan 10 years, 2 months ago

F*ck parkay and anyone else who somehow feels it is up to the government to take care of them.Go apply for foodstamps while you're at it. Parkay refers to "our communities" yet refuses to play a part in keeping it's members.Put up or shut up you old asd wind bag.

1029 10 years, 1 month ago

One can only wonder how astronomical those numbers would be if abortion was illegal.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 10 years, 1 month ago

They can't commit crimes if they are locked up, can they. If they can't do the time, don't do the crime. That simple. Thank you, Lynn

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