Opinion: Training vs. Recidivism

Principal Ryan Puckett worked with RecycleForce Vice President Tom Gray on the following opinion editorial originally published in the February 7, 2013 edition of The Indianapolis Star. The op-ed is in reaction to an article by Star columnist Matthew Tully on reforming the Indiana state budget.

Let’s Train Ex-offenders, Don’t Send Them Back

Mathew Tully’s Jan. 27 column exhorts us to make smart reforms to the state budget. Our criminal justice system would seem ripe for smart reform as it represents one of the larger budget line items. For example, the Indiana Department of Correction spends $650 million each year to incarcerate more than 24,000 individuals. Smart reform would preserve public safety at the same time of realizing savings.

Roughly one-third of the Americans entering prison each year did not commit a new crime. Instead, they return for a technical rule violation. Upon release, they are subject to certain terms, conditions and supervision. They can be returned to prison if these conditions are breached. Minor rule violations such as missing counseling meetings, failing to pay a probation fee or failing to find employment can all lead to re-imprisonment.

According to the most recent data available, Marion County returned to prison 73 percent of those on probation and parole because of a technical rule violation and not because they had committed a new crime. Lack of employment and access to necessary supportive services is what’s behind a large percentage of these violations.

We propose that prosecutors and judges be given the option to sentence some of the technical violators to social programs. The cost savings could be significant. In Illinois, a recent study estimated that technical rule violations cost our neighbors more than $100 million a year. Furthermore, this approach would more adequately reintegrate ex-offenders into civil society. Numerous studies demonstrate that number one predictor of whether or not an individual will return to prison is a job.

At RecycleForce, we believe that we can no longer afford to waste the massive amount of human capital languishing behind bars for minor infractions. We see the value and potential in these individuals and that’s why we offer them transitional employment.

Let us cut what is not working and invest in what does.

Thomas Gray, Vice President, RecycleForce

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