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Nearly 700,000 people a year are released from U.S. prisons, including 22,500 in Ohio.
Often returning to this nation’s poorest neighborhoods, they face enormous obstacles in securing employment, housing, education, and if needed, mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Small wonder nearly 40 percent of them return to prison, where they cost taxpayers from $25,000 to $40,000 a year, instead of becoming productive citizens who pay taxes and support their families.
When ex-offenders cannot find legal ways to support themselves and their families, the lure of crime can overwhelm them.
But Ohio and many other states have slowed this revolving door. In fact, Ohio’s prison recidivism rates, calculated over three years, dropped to a record low of 28.7 percent last year, compared to nearly 40 percent a decade ago.
With a statewide Ex-Offender Reentry Coalition and local re-entry coalitions that now cover 70 of Ohio’s 88 counties, including Lucas, Ohio has emerged as a national leader in helping those who leave prison succeed and stay out.
But it couldn’t have done it without help from the federal Second Chance Act, which poured more nearly $15 million into Ohio for grants to plan and run job training and other programs targeting adult and juvenile offenders.
Ohio can take pride that then-Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Portman and the late Cleveland Democrat, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, authored the original Second Chance Act that passed into law in 2008.
Last week, in another bipartisan effort, now-Senator Portman and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) introduced legislation to reauthorize the Second Chance Act.
Every Congressional representative in Ohio should get behind the bill, which reauthorizes the Second Chance Act for five years. It comes as the Judiciary Committee examines ways to reduce prison costs for federal, state, and local governments, and Democrats and Republicans are considering broader criminal justice reforms.
As the world’s leading incarcerator, the United States holds 25 percent of the planet’s prison population, with more than 2 million people locked up.
Reducing recidivism by 10 percent nationwide would save more than a half-billion dollars a year in prison costs while significantly reducing crime.
More than 95 percent of those in prison will go home eventually. One of the best ways to reduce prison populations — and to contain corrections costs — is to make sure that fewer inmates who are released go back.
The Reentry Coalition of Northwest Ohio, for example, including public agencies, nonprofits, volunteers, and faith-based groups, has enabled 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.
Newly released offenders also get support from their peers and connected to agencies that can assist them, such as Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, Owens Community College, and Lucas County Job and Family Services.
Throughout Ohio, prisoner recidivism rates have dropped by 21 percent in less than a decade. Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, has made reducing recidivism a core part of the department’s mission.
Continued progress, however, will depend partly on support provided by the Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2013. Ohio’s U.S. senators and representatives in Congress should join Mr. Portman in making it happen.
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