Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Helping Prisoners Re-enter Society

Most re-entry efforts focus on prison inmates, yet about nine million people cycle annually through our country’s jails. This is roughly 10 times the number who leave prisons.

Jail inmates generally return to their communities after short incarcerations, bringing with them a higher incidence of communicable diseases and mental health conditions than exists in the general population.

Left untreated, these problems add to society’s health burden, emergency room costs and municipal budgets. They also increase the likelihood that inmates will commit new offenses and return to jail again, at public expense.

Jails are required to provide health care to inmates. This mandate creates an opportunity to support re-entry efforts. By linking inmates with community-based doctors, whom they can continue seeing after release, jails can stabilize inmates’ health and help improve the health and safety of the community.

The Second Chance Act is a welcome step. We can do more to support jail inmates by remembering that they are part of our communities and by providing them with community-based health care during incarceration.

Keith Barton
South Londonderry, Vt., May 20, 2008

The writer, a physician, is medical director of Community Oriented Correctional Health Services in Oakland, Calif.

To the Editor:

Financing of the Second Chance Act will support useful services to support the transition from prison to community. But these services must also be accompanied by removal of conflicting and counterproductive policies that stand in the way of community reintegration.

For example, while New York State allocated $3.1 million to assist re-entry efforts this year, the same budget projects an estimated $40 million in revenues from fees and surcharges imposed on people convicted of crimes, 80 percent of whom are indigent.

This crushing debt will leave releasees unable to acquire employment and housing, reverting to a life of crime that jeopardizes the community safety.

If New York is truly committed to public safety and reintegration, it must stop using financial penalties that undermine the intent of legislation like the Second Chance Act.

Marsha Weissman
Executive Director
Center for Community Alternatives
New York, May 22, 2008

Letters to the Editor of the New York Times published May 27, 2008

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