SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

January 15, 2013

Watson: Inmate rehab programs break cycle of recidivism

In Massachusetts, there are 18 state prisons and 19 county jails. The inmate population of both systems totals roughly 23,000 offenders.

In a typical year, approximately 16,000 inmates are released — an average of 320 per week.

The jails and prisons are usually at or near their full capacity, so the numbers above also apply in reverse. That is, roughly 16,000 individuals are freshly incarcerated every year.

It costs the state between $25,000 and $45,000 per prisoner, per year, to house those inmates. Many of them are repeat offenders; approximately 40 percent of them will be behind bars again, within three years of being released.

In Essex County alone — there are 14 counties in the state — roughly 1,250 convicted offenders are put in jail every year. The same number is released each year.

If you’re starting to picture a treadmill or a revolving door, with the same inmates going around and around — sometimes to be replaced with very similar offenders — you’re getting the picture.

At the county level especially, which incarcerates lower-level offenders, almost every inmate is young and male and goes into jail with a drug or alcohol addiction, no job, no diploma, no vocational skills, and little family or adult support.

The wastefulness of this status quo — where a young man can be incarcerated three, four, five or six times within the space of maybe 10 years, say between ages 17 and 27, without any change in his proclivity to commit crime — is obvious.

Fortunately, there are ways to intervene smartly in the cycle of recidivism, and citizens should be supportive of those efforts. For in the long run, they save tax dollars and lower the recidivism rates.

I recently spoke with Richard Wysopal, the manager of a program designed to elicit educational efforts from inmates who can be motivated to pursue higher education upon their release from jail.

Called the Danells Scholarship Program, and run jointly by the Essex County Sheriff’s Department and North Shore Community College, the initiative has successfully assisted 30 offenders with transforming their lives.

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