In the June 4 IBJ, Mickey Maurer wrote an insightful commentary on some of the difficulties faced by ex-offenders returning to their communities. An editorial in the July 9 issue called for ex-offender re-entry into the work force as an important next step for the city of Indianapolis.
IBJ has focused on a critical issue, and has correctly identified several obstacles faced by returning offenders seeking to reintegrate into society-from housing to willing employers to the need for mentors. But there's more: Many inmates at correctional facilities are undereducated for today's work-force needs. Many have substance-abuse problems. Most are not "work-ready," lacking the job skills or, more important, the life skills, to get and keep a job. They are not connected to family or community. With all these obstacles to success, it's not hard to see why so many return to a life of crime after their release.
The good news is that there are several efforts under way throughout Marion County to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society. Judge David Shaheed has started a special court to work with drugdependent ex-offenders. The Indiana Department of Correction has dedicated a facility to preparing inmates for their reentry into society. The U.S. Attorney pro vides a re-entry coordinator to identify available services. A collaboration among the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, the state, the courts and Workforce Inc., a not-for-profit work-force training and placement entity serving ex offenders, will provide exoffenders help in getting and keeping a job, while helping them reconnect with their families and meet their child support obligations.
Separately, the Indianapolis Private Industry Council, in collaboration with the Marion County Probation Department, Marion County Community Corrections, JobWorks, and five community- and faithbased organizations, just won a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to assist returning offenders. A portion of a $2.5 million anti-gang grant from the Department of Justice will focus on reentry. Various churches in the community mentor ex-offenders.
The bad news is that, until now, all these efforts have been fragmented, with no overall coordination. Each addresses perhaps one or two of an ex-offender's obstacles to success, while leaving him to negotiate the rest on his own.
Recently, however, officials from the top levels of the city and state administrations and the federal government have convened to develop a comprehensive approach addressing supervision, treatment, job placement and retention, hous ing and the myriad other issues facing exoffenders. Significant involvement of the private sector and faith- and communitybased organizations will be critical in providing jobs, mentoring and spiritual guidance.
Leveraging the efforts already under way, and learning the lessons of successful re-entry programs, such as a national model right up the road in Allen County, will enable Marion County to help ex-offenders succeed as law-abiding citizens.
Make no mistake about it: Ex-offender re-entry is not just about offering a helping hand to people who have committed crimes. It is about preventing future crime in our community. A full 5,000 ex-offenders return to Marion County every year; statistics show at least 66 percent of them will re-offend within three years of their release. But they have a chance to become productive, contributing citizens: Allen County's coordinated approach is making a measurable difference, reducing recidivism among its target population by 69 percent and reducing criminal justice costs for that population by 83 percent.
As a society, we are not presented with a choice in this situation. We are presented with a mandate; failure is not an option.
Daniels is president of the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research and a partner in the law firm Krieg DeVault LLP, both based in Indianapolis.