Fall 2010 - 60860 - PA680PA - Policy Research Project
Barriers to Success: Reintegrating Ex-Offenders into Society
|Instructor(s):|| Spelman, William
|Day & Time:||T 2:00 - 5:00 pm|
|Waitlist Information:||For LBJ Students: UT Waitlist Information|
The problem: What goes up, must come down. And whoever goes in will eventually come out.
That’s certainly true for jails and prisons. Most news reports focus on the number of inmates – the “custody population” – and it’s huge and growing. Nationwide, the number of Americans in custody went from a half-million in 1980, to one million in 1990, to 2.3 million today. That’s approximately $115 billion (with a “b”) per year we spend on keeping people locked up. The research is mixed, but most observers think we’re putting way too many people behind bars.
But the story gets worse. Almost all inmates are eventually released, and 5.1 million Americans are on probation or parole. In Texas, that’s 3 percent of adults, and this figure is growing even faster than the prison population. Community sanctions are cheaper than prison, but for many people it’s scarier. For good reason: Only about half of parolees are able to finish their term without being sent back to prison. If we can increase the number of ex-offenders who succeed, we could reduce the prison population, reduce the crime rate, and help a whole lot of people escape the trap they’re in and become productive members of society.
That’s easy to say, but ex-cons face a lot of barriers. They need jobs, but many lack job skills and a lot of employers won’t hire ex-cons. Most have some kind of chronic health problem, often created or exacerbated by years of drug and alcohol abuse and indifferent care in prison. They’re not eligible for Medicaid and rarely have access to private insurance. Even housing is difficult, because many of the options available to folks with little money – public housing, private housing in federally supported “section 8” units – are generally closed to ex-offenders. Given the barriers they face, it’s actually remarkable that half of ex-cons find a way to go straight.
Our job: Our client is the Travis County Commissioners Court, which manages the local criminal justice system (including probation and parole), and also provides or funds some of the job and social services help that offenders need. They know generally what’s needed – more – but need us to get specific. What funding sources are available to construct and operate housing for ex-cons? How can we best provide them with health care for chronic conditions? What jobs are available in the current economy and who knows how to train ex-cons to fill them? Our report will provide the Court with the background it needs, then make recommendations on program (what the county needs to do), implementation (how it needs to gear up and get it done), and budget (how much it will cost and where the money will come from). The due date of May 2011 will allow our recommendations to be considered for the County’s 2011-12 budget.