Nationwide, more than 40 percent of inmates who are released from prison eventually go back, at an enormous cost to taxpayers. The price of incarceration in Ohio runs about $25,000 a year per inmate; in Michigan, it’s nearly $34,000.
More than 95 percent of people in prison will go home sooner or later. One of the best ways to reduce state prison populations — and to contain corrections costs — is to make sure that fewer inmates who are released go back.
When inmates succeed on the outside, they pay taxes and contribute to society, instead of committing new crimes and returning to prison to serve sentences that can cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars for each offender.
Overall, Ohio has done a solid job with the more than 20,000 prisoners who are released each year from its 28 prisons. They face numerous barriers, including problems with housing, employment, education, mental health, and substance abuse.
Still, prisoner recidivism rates here have dropped by 21 percent in less than a decade. Ohio has invested prudently in programs that help inmates return successfully to their communities.
The federal Second Chance Act poured more than $10 million into Ohio between 2009 and 2011. Return rates for prisoners in our state are now about 31 percent.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections deserves credit, but innovative local programs also have undertaken effective efforts. More than 50 Ohio counties, including Lucas County, now have re-entry networks.
The Reentry Coalition of Northwest Ohio consists of public agencies, nonprofits, volunteers, and faith-based groups that work together to help returning prisoners succeed. The coalition enables attorneys to work with prisoners, months before their release, to straighten out legal issues, such as outstanding warrants, fines, license suspensions, and child support orders.
Equally important, released inmates get emotional support from Citizen Circles — groups of ex-offenders who know firsthand what released prisoners face. Newly released offenders also get connected to agencies that can help, such as the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, Owens Community College, and Lucas County Job and Family Services.
Unfortunately, a $732,000 grant that supported the coalition for nearly two years expired last September. The coalition is seeking grants from city, county, and local judicial sources to keep its effective programs running.
Even in tough times when dollars are scarce, any agency that can help the coalition ought to do so. Few investments have a higher payoff than assisting ex-offenders to contribute to their communities instead of returning to prison.