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Nonprofit Community-Based Corrections Need an Incentive to Expand

As crime rates in this country fall, no society in human history has ever imprisoned more citizens for the purposes of crime control. Longer sentences, especially for drug crimes during the 1980's and for violent crimes in the 1990's, have driven prison populations. We will likely have 2 million people in prison by the end of next year. Of all the industrialized nations, the United States and Russia lead in terms of incarceration rates. With an increase of 60,000 prisoners last year, we may have matched or even surpassed Russia as the country with the highest rate of incarceration.

As the Star Tribune editorialized on August 7, 1998, “Americans fear crime and lawmakers have opted for incarceration as the easiest form of appeasement. But though it may be easy, it certainly not cheap nor sensible, nor particularly effective.” In response to public concerns, the Minnesota legislature in the last 11 sessions has enacted 53 "tough on crime" initiatives. Minnesota has doubled the number of prison beds. The number of jail cells has more than doubled. Both prisons and jails are overcrowded and some call for more construction of prison cells and jail beds.

As prison beds increase, the number of community corrections beds has declined in Minnesota. No new community corrections facilities have been created in Minnesota in more than 20 years. Community corrections facilities need to be expanded. For those who need 24 hour surveillance, put them in a community corrections bed at a fraction of the costs of incarceration. Minnesota has had a solid community corrections treatment program for 30 years: the public has been protected, better rehabilitation has occurred, and the costs are a fraction of incarceration.

We need more electronic monitoring. Sentence non-violent offenders to stay in their own homes. If they leave, lock them up and throw them in jail. Most offenders have chemical abuse problems—sentence them to treatment. Electronic surveillance provides an alternative to incarceration. Electronic surveillance costs about $12 per day and most offenders are ordered to cover the cost. The average daily cost for state incarceration is about $113 for adults and $178 for juveniles. Families remain intact and they can remain employed thus, reducing dependence on public assistance.

We need better re-entry services following incarceration including residential and day-reporting programs. 95% of prisoners will eventually leave prison. They do so with $100 gate money and in no better shape than when they went into prison. Rather than build more prison and jail cells, we should build on the community corrections infrastructure that we already have in place.

Residential programs typically require that released inmates stay for approximately 60 days and during that time staff provide resources and referrals to help clients make a successful re-entry into the community. Community safety is a paramount concern and any threatening or illegal behavior is immediately referred to the proper authorities. Goals pertaining to employment, education, sobriety and living arrangements must be met before re-entry into the community. The Alternative: these offenders return directly into the community. Without access to re-entry services, most will re-offend and continue with the costly process of the revolving prison door.

Day-reporting re-entry programs include employment assistance, counseling, referrals to community resources, education opportunities - as well as sobriety and curfew checks are part of the programming for a successful re-entry into the community. The Alternative: there are few if any programs available in the state for these services. To cover escalating incarceration costs, these programs have been drastically cut from the state's correctional budget.

Nonprofit community-based corrections need incentives to expand and increase services. This can be done with a public/nonprofit partnership that in the next century can be a model for the nation. Unfortunately, community corrections facilities have had a difficult time fundraising in the foundation community. Many foundations see community corrections as a "government problem." But if you stood most former inmates and most of the people that foundations choose to service in the same room, most would have a hard time differentiating them. On the other hand, government funding covers mainly the day-to-day costs of running a nonprofit community corrections facility. We need a nonprofit/public partnership that would include matching grants to community corrections facilities for each dollar raised from foundations. If that can occur, we will protect the public, enhance rehabilitation, and save tax dollars.

Jill A. Birnbaum
  
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