Progress on recidivism: New programs show promising results for the state

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The most daunting challenge that faces prisoners when they are released is steering clear of the legal troubles that led to their incarceration in the first place.

On Thursday, Pennsylvania was among eight states singled out in Washington, D.C., for their progress in reducing repeat offenses. A study for the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments determined that, from 2007 to 2010, the state reduced its recidivism rate by 7.1 percent.

Moving the statistics in the right direction is very encouraging, particularly given the alarming data that indicates six in 10 released inmates are either rearrested or reincarcerated within three years. And Pennsylvania’s prospects for the future look even brighter, according to the report.

The improvements did not happen by accident. Since 2009, Pennsylvania has been the recipient of federal grants aimed at addressing the problem, and changes in state law allowed the Department of Corrections to alter how it prepares inmates for release.

The department provided more therapeutic programs in prison designed to deal with substance abuse and mental health and it rewarded nonviolent offenders with early release if they displayed good behavior and participated in specific programs.

The department also created an incentive program for halfway houses, where most prisoners are placed prior to being released on probation. The contractors received bonuses if the recidivism rates of their clients fell.

That process so far has shown a 16 percent drop in the rate of repeat offenses during the first six months after inmates are released. The real danger zone is longer, of course, but the early results are promising.

Reducing the rate of repeat offenses is enormously beneficial for the convicts themselves, their families, society as a whole and for taxpayers, who can save millions each year by holding down the crime rate and prison population.

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