It’s a question rooted in some harsh realities: What’s the point of letting prisoners out of jail, if they’re going to come right back to the prison door in no time?
As taxpayers, we ought to demand more effective action to prevent folks from returning to jail once they go back into society. How? A look back at what once worked is instructive.
Over a decade ending in 2014, Louisiana was plagued by high rates of recidivism, measured by how many released cons went back to jail within three years of release. Compared to inmates who did not have access to mental illness and substance abuse programs, 12 percent fewer released prisoners came back to jail.
A national report showed that these kinds of programs can work, and obviously it is a benefit to the taxpayer when more folks don’t end up back in jail.
Supported initially by federal funds, the programs focusing on mental illness and drug abuse arguably made a difference. It’s symptomatic of state budget problems that something that works doesn’t get funded by the Legislature, so the program languished after the money from Washington dried up.
After about a two-year hiatus, the New Beginnings program has received another grant of almost $750,000 from the U.S. Justice Department. Rhett Covington, assistant secretary of the state Department of Corrections, said that the grant will be used to intervene with inmates before their release and interacting after jail for about eight months, in Baton Rouge and St. Tammany.
The jails will work with the Capital Area Human Services and Florida Parishes Human Services agencies in both jurisdictions.
If the result is as good as expected, we agree with state Corrections chief Jimmy Leblanc that “we need to find a way to fund it on a permanent basis.” His idea is that future savings from the historic 2017 legislative package that is reducing prison populations — a significant cost-savings for taxpayers — should be used for programs to prevent recidivism.
It’s a good idea and one that we hope will strike a chord with lawmakers and the state administration, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, who championed the 2017 reforms with support from Republican legislators.
It is all that needs to be done? Probably not, and LeBlanc said the state needs other help for related initiatives from nonprofits and faith-based organizations to complement assistance from government agencies.
Given the impact of drug abuse and mental illness on prison populations, investment from the state and parish sheriffs, who run local jails, would be helpful in expanding these programs to make second chances work for inmates returning to society.