Conference Pushes to Help Ex-Cons

At a conference in San Francisco pushing for more ways to help ex-inmates adjust to life outside the clink, the crowd Wednesday was pretty much in agreement that increasing re-entry programs is good, for the inmates and for public safety in the long run.

But between the panelists calling for more resources and coordination, and offering up grim statistics to demonstrate the need, one named Dr. Barry Krisberg squeezed in a reality check. The results of various studies have been discouraging, he noted, because many have found that increased supervision after release didn’t have an effect.

So the longtime president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency cautioned — apparently without concern for political correctness — against what he sees as common missteps in such efforts. “Don’t rely upon public employees to be your principal deliverers of service,” he said, suggesting they’re more likely to want to work just 9 to 5, and that they wouldn’t necessarily come from the same neighborhoods as their clients. Secondly — “at the risk of offending people, which I sometimes do” — he warned against investing too heavily in therapy of all stripes. “It doesn’t solve their problems.”

What does? In his view a job, a place to live, and a stable family and community environment are key. “That’s what the research on successful people coming out of prison shows us.” He held up the local Delancey Street program as one worth emulating.

Among the stats thrown out at yesterday’s event, which involved the DA, public defender and sheriff, among others, it was interesting to note how many parolees San Francisco plays host to: about 1,500 at any given time, in a city of roughly 740,000. Some good news? They said the current rate of recidivism is slightly lower than the statewide average.

Still, they think a greater focus on re-entry programs can drive it down farther. One idea from the public officials and other folks studying the topic: A “re-entry court” that would offer parolees accused of nonserious, nonviolent violations of their conditions a chance to stay out of prison, if they check in with the court regularly and do well in things like substance abuse or education programs.

Pam Smith

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