Imagine the good news! The Parole Commission has finally granted you parole after 23 years behind bars! After the initial euphoria, the sobering thought, “What am I going to do?” tempers your joy with an overwhelming dose of reality.
You realize you’ve never been on the internet, spoken on a cell phone, sent an email or text message, and are more lost with a GS system than without one. Even if you had these skills, where would you find the resources to purchase these items? How would you pay for shelter, clothing, transportation, licenses, insurance, food, and other necessities to properly function in society? How are you going to pay the costs and fees upon you by the courts and post-release commission? The Herculean task of finding meaningful employment in an economy suffering from chronic unemployment and underemployment rates of nearly 20% makes successful reentry into society all the more difficult. And these are only some of the problems!
Many of these obstacles to successful reentry are not limited to long-term prisoners. Whether repeat offenders or first-time felons, the prison experience, no matter how lengthy or brief, can often be accompanied by an abandonment of family and friends, loss of employment, depression, depletion of assets or property, and a wide range of other difficulties. All too often, a person is faced with the daunting dilemma of deciding between a life of crime or a life lacking in even the basic necessities of food and shelter.
A quick aside: for the uninstructed (in Greek, “idotai,” hence the English “idiot!”)who thinks risking a return to prison is an easy decision because of how cozy prisons are, I invite you to spend just one month in any close custody prison espousing your views. If you make it out (doubtful), it will not be with the same attitude I am certain.
The difficulties facing prisoners upon reentry into society are not unknown to the NC Department of Public Safety (NC DPS). Many thousands of prisoners are released every year. Statistically, more than half will eventually be back. Why? Are there simple, cost-effective solutions to drastically reduce recidivism? Do NC DPS policies and practices prevent recidivism or encourage it? What motivation would the NC DPS have in keeping recidivism rates and prison populations as high as they possibly can?
According to the NC DPS’ own statistics, the recidivism rate for all prisoners is over 50%. The rate for prisoners receiving a two-year college degree: 5%. The recidivism rate for prisoners earning a four-year degree: 2%. But the number of prisoners currently assigned to a two-year program is less than 1%. A four year program, less than .1%.
NC DPS propagandists will point to a significant number of community college programs available to many prisoners (almost none of which are degree programs, most being useless “certificate” programs). What these spin masters won’t tell you is the actual number of prisoners who actually gain employment in the field of their course of study who have had no previous work experience in that field. What the NC DPS most certainly will not tell you is that the only reason these programs are available to prisoners is that they are only thing keeping some of the smaller campuses solvent. For example, Mayland CC has more students enrolled who are in prison than they do on campus – a fact repeated in several of the smaller community colleges across the state.
According to the US Bureau of Prisons, prisoners working at least one year in a work-release program are far less likely to commit further crimes and return to prison. NC DPS will boast that they, too, have a work-release program. What they won’t tell you is how few of these opportunities are actually available or how many the NC DPS themselves have eliminated through interference with potential employers. According to the NC DPS’ own statistics, less than 5% of all NC prisoners spend at least one year in such a program.
While there are a fortunate few who are able to accumulate decent savings to start a new life, most see their earning plundered by a system all too eager to steal an easy dollar. On top of the usual federal and State taxes and other standard deductions any private citizen pays, NC prisoners on work release must pay 5% of their gross pay to the NC Victims Assistance Fund. The NC DPS then charges a $20/day work per diem charge, transportation fees, and other costs. If the prisoner had a court-appointed attorney, restitution, fines, court costs, or any other judgment, it too comes out of their pay. More often than not, the prisoner is left with very little to try to start a new life, while the state makes out very nicely indeed.
Education and work-release programs are merely two examples of cost-effective programs repeatedly shown to have a significant, positive effect on recidivism rates if implemented properly. Other programs are supposedly utilized by the state, yet closer examination will reveal that, as in the above examples, the NC DPS perverts, bungles, under-utilizes, or has them solely as a vehicle to gobble up federal grants with little or no effect on recidivism.
One would logically reason that the NC DPS would be interested in lowering recidivism, thus reducing crime and fulfilling their mandate to keep the public safe. Why would they fail to properly implement simple programs proven to drastically reduce recidivism?
One reason is job security. Not many persons employed by the NC DPS have any marketable skills that would enable them to earn a comparable living the in private sector. The Parole Commission is a clear example. There are hundreds of prisoners currently eligible for parole who have already done far more time for their crimes than they would have under new sentencing laws or anywhere else in the world. With a dwindling number of prisoners under old sentencing laws (new law prisoners do not have parole, rather structured sentences), the Parole Commission has a vested interest in keeping their cozy sinecure going by maintaining a significant number of “old law” prisoners in the system. I should know – I’m one of them.
The main reason, however, for the burgeoning prison population as well as practices guaranteed to keep recidivism rates high is the ever-growing prison industrial lobby that, according to the US Bureau of Prisons, represents an $80 Billion + business in 2010. Add to this figure the enormous amounts of money states (including NC) saved by employing forced slave labor to do everything from making office furniture and cleaning supplies to maintaining highways and processing foods for schools and hospitals.
Banks earn fees for underwriting bonds to finance prison expansion projects. Insurance companies underwrite health care policies for every prisoner in the system. Construction companies, supply companies, and vendors of a wide variety all have bottom-line motivations for keeping prison populations at a premium. The reality of the profit motive driving incarceration is no less true in a state like NC without private prisons, though private prison companies are certainly one of these industries significantly contributing to political election campaigns across the country. This includes our former Governor, Bev Perdue, as a matter of public record. These companies are not investing this kind of money without expecting a return. Politicians who fail to sign on to so-called “get tough on crime” legislation are castigated in the media as “soft on crime,” effectively ending their careers.
The real bottom-line is that too many people are making too much money off of growing prison populations to allow for the implementation of reasonable, cost-effective measures to effectively reduce recidivism. This profit motive is directly responsible for the US incarcerating far more people per capita than China, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, or an other country on the face of the planet.
Until the profit motive is removed from government policy regarding crime and punishment, prison populations in states like NC will continue to swell at the expense of the taxpayer dollar, public safety, and the lives of those who are needlessly incarcerated.
For more information, feel free to contact the author:
Thomas Najewicz #0298431
PO Box 1058
Burgaw, NC 28425