As of a year ago - and the number would be higher now - an estimated 2,245,189 people were held in state and federal prisons in the United States. A few of them will stay there until they die, but most (the estimate is 95%) will be released back into society. And because over the last couple of decades sentences generally have been getting longer, those numbers are going to run higher than they have been until now, and those in "re-entry" to society are going to be people who have spent more years in prison than the released used to. And - the point here - we've been doing not a lot about dealing with this.
There is some thought on the subject, however, starting with research. The Council of State Governments has a Reentry Policy Council, which looks at just this issue, and a number of states have followed up with councils of their own. One of the first was in Oregon, established last May, and this fall starting to generate some news and reports.
A press release on early stages of the group's work had some useful background: "Oregon prisons currently house nearly 13,500 inmates, a record number due to tougher sentencing laws and the state’s growing population. Each year about 4,000 offenders are released back into the community at the end of their sentences, becoming part of the 34,000 offenders under supervision across Oregon at any given time. Yet over the past decade, Oregon’s recidivism rate has remained relatively stable. One out of every three people released from prison is convicted of a new felony crime within three years of release. Policymakers, practitioners and researchers are increasingly identifying coordination of re-entry efforts as critical to successful outcomes and rehabilitation."
This stuff is a great deal more complex than you might at first think - the implications of bringing these people into a productive place in society, rather than simply marking time till the re-arrest, bring into play a lot of causes and effects. Here's one we just ran across, in a Re-Entry Policy Council brochure:
• People who do not find stable housing in the community are more likely to recidivate than those who do: the Georgia Department of Corrections determined that, with each move after release from prison, a person’s likelihood of re-arrest increased by 25 percent.
• Re-arrest and re-incarceration disrupts income and the ability of both the person arrested and his or her family to comply with a lease agreement.
The thought about "lease agreements" seems almost minor until you begin to spin out all the effects - personal, financial, social - broken deals can have all over the place.
Might be time for Idaho and Washington, which we gather do not have equivalent councils or similar activity, to take a look at this too.