Public Safety Demands Efforts to Improve Inmate Reentry
In the field of public safety, prevention offers some of the most far-reaching and meaningful benefits: Safer communities, lower corrections costs and less strain on the law enforcement professionals who provide our front-line defense.
So with roughly 18,000 convicted felons returning to Kentucky communities each year, it’s paramount that our state’s policy leaders seize every opportunity to prevent recidivism and prepare felons for successful reentry. That reduces crime, cuts costs and decreases the risk of further victimization.
No one understands the dangers and frustrations of recidivism more than the men and women of law enforcement, who face down the threat of repeat offenders on a regular basis. But those on the front lines have reasons to be optimistic.
Over the past year, the Bevin administration and lawmakers, along with business and faith leaders, have joined together with an unprecedented focus on reentry.
In April, Gov. Matt Bevin signed Senate Bill 120, evidence-based reforms that will improve public safety by helping reduce recidivism and strengthen reentry for those with a criminal record. More than anything, this measure will knock down barriers to steady employment, the lack of which too often drives offenders back into the criminal justice system.
It’s no surprise that in the end, the reform garnered support from the Kentucky State Police, Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association, Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police and Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police, along with numerous faith, business and victims’ groups.
Let’s look at just two provisions in the bill: One section removes automatic bans for felons seeking professional licenses, giving occupational boards discretion to determine whether a crime should prohibit licensure. Another section establishes a mechanism for private industry to operate inside prisons. That gives inmates an opportunity to learn real-life job skills while also paying restitution and child support.
Both are common-sense reforms. And they are necessary because public safety demands robust attention to how these offenders will provide for themselves – and their families – when they leave prison. Studies show steady employment is one of the most crucial factors in whether a former inmate will return to a life of crime.
Consider a 2008 study from the Safer Foundation, a national not-for-profit organization that provides reentry services to the incarcerated. Their research showed one year of employment decreased the three-year recidivism rate to 16 percent, far lower than the 52-percent rate for all released inmates.
With that in mind, the reforms in Senate Bill 120 not only support inmates during their transition back, but also establish higher expectations and demand that those leaving prison take personal responsibility to find jobs and get back to work.
That benefits families who depend on a felon as a breadwinner. It benefits employers who need skilled labor. It benefits our courts and prisons by reducing our criminal populations. It also benefits law enforcement – if we can help these offenders find good jobs, you will likely never have to deal with them again.