Georgia has a recidivism rate of nearly one in three. During the 1990’s “get tough on crime” movement the Georgia state legislature created some of the toughest “repeat offender” laws in the country. The cost of these laws are now having a direct impact, not only on the state budget, but the ability of newly released individuals to integrating successfully back into society.
Now, as observed by the prison reform agenda passed in the 2012 Legislative session, we as a state simply cannot afford the luxury of a segregated society where felons are safely on one side of the barbed wire fence and law abiding citizens are on the other. The question becomes, how do we get to the root cause of Georgia’s recidivism rate? The answer is simple.
Here are six steps to cut Georgia’s recidivism rate:
1. Stop approaching the problem as one of “justified punishment” to one of “rehabilitation.” One definition of rehabilitation is “to reestablish the good reputation of (a person, one’s character or name, etc.).” The implementation of policy with this definition in mind will put Georgia on the right track to becoming a national leader on prison reform.
2. Implement plans to make inmate access to education and funding for such programs easier. Let’s hope that state lawmakers go further and reintroduce college coursework. The state has made a good first start with its new focus on education of inmates, while incarcerated, and the emphasis on firefighting programs, farming and vocational-technical programs as job training tools.
3. Georgia should bar discrimination based upon felony conviction in employment cases where the felony is 10 years or older except in cases of employment for law enforcement or where a fiduciary responsibility is part of one’s job. The obsession with background checks most often systematically disqualifies anyone with a felony criminal record from even gaining an interview.
4. Georgia needs to revamp its “Re-entry Program” to focus more on job training, getting a basic education (GED), and to guide newly released individuals to basic social services that will help them re-establish themselves as taxpayers back into the community.
5. Georgia should adopt Democratic State Senator Emanuel Jones’s proposal to lift the food stamp ban against persons with drug-related convictions as part of the Governor’s 2013 Legislative Package. The Governor lent his support and drug-courts gained momentum as a judicial remedy for drug defendants and Senator Jones’s legislation is the logical next step.
6. Lastly, greater incentives have to be granted to employers who hire convicted felons such as increased tax credits or salary offsets. General life skills classes, from learning, balancing a checkbook, job interviewing skills, and job training have to become a mandatory part of the incarceration experience.
While these ideas are most likely to be considered “radical” it is a starting point for a conversation on how we can help individuals reintegrate into society, find meaningful employment and restore self-esteem in newly released individuals. Every individual deserves the right to restore their good name. In turn, as a state and as a society, we have to develop policies that will not hold their mistakes against them for the rest of their lives.