“Rehabilitation works better for prisoners”

The Kansas City Star has this editorial discussing the Second Chance Act signed into law by President Bush early last week. Here are highlights:

Thousands of offenders leave prison each year unprepared for life on the outside. Returning to impoverished neighborhoods, they lack job skills and support systems. Not surprisingly, nearly half of released inmates are back behind bars within three years.

The public’s fear of crime — and politicians’ fear of being perceived as soft on crime — has resulted in more and longer incarcerations in recent decades. Now lawmakers are once again embracing the sensible concept of rehabilitation.

States, motivated in part by fiscal concerns, have already been moving in that direction. Kansas passed a law last year creating community corrections districts and making money available for services to offenders serving probation or parole.

Early results show that people are about 30 percent less likely to violate the terms of their probations or commit new crimes if they receive drug and alcohol treatment and other services, said Rep. Pat Colloton, a Leawood Republican who spearheaded the legislation. The effort has enabled Kansas to postpone a costly prison construction program.

I’m glad the Second Chance Act has received such a positive response over the past week. Without question incarceration is a necessary part of our society, but research shows the “get tough” legislation enacted over the last few decades has, for the most part, done more harm than good. Lengthy sentences for non-violent criminals and the lack of rehabilitation initiatives has led to crowded prisons and states scrambling to fund prison expenses. Perhaps more states will now examine their sentencing laws and rehabilitation practices.