ABOUT half of the 1,000 new prisoners in the Felon Class of 2020 will likely be returning customers. The revolving door of felon recidivism is so routine that forecasters build it into their models. Each felony case costs taxpayers, on average, more than $32,000, according to the Washington State Institute on Public Policy.
Stopping the revolving door requires renewed focus on what is known as “re-entry” — the transition from prison back to society. Inmates should leave with a plan and a tool kit, including current ID, clean slate from old warrants and connections with community-based organizations that help felons.
The state should provide its business partners with incentives to hire ex-felons, and local governments should ease the public’s anxiety of felons returning to communities.
These aren’t liberal utopian notions. They’re from Republican King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s recent report on re-entry. He calls re-entry “the great untapped area for criminal justice reform.”
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The report proposes smart public policy. More than 95 percent of current prison inmates will return to society. Do you feel more comfortable easing them back into society, or cutting them loose with $40 “gate money” and a bus pass, as happened historically?
The state Legislature previously endorsed a more deliberate approach to easing re-entry, but plans were nipped by the Great Recession. Still, even with tight budgets, some programs proved effective.
Washington State University researchers, for example, recently found that supplying housing vouchers to ex-inmates both reduced recidivism and reduced incarceration costs, saving $7 for every $1 spent.
Heed Satterberg and the research, and slow the revolving door.