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The long road… home?

November 4, 2011

After attending an offender reentry meeting, a colleague asked a potent question:  “Where will all the individuals eligible for early release under the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act go? What are we going to do with them?”

I shrugged at her inquiry and responded almost dismissively: “The same as we always do: nothing.”

As Urbanite writer Michael Corbin has pointed out in his brilliant Crime & Punishment series, we’ve done an incredible job of locking up and imprisoning our fellow citizens—many of them for relatively minor nonviolent offenses—but have done little to rehabilitate them and help ensure their success once they’ve returned to the outside. Maryland spends nearly $1.4 billion per year on state-level corrections, a staggering investment that leads to minimal (if not negative) social returns.

So, where do these individuals go? Over 6,500 ex-offenders return to Baltimore City annually, many of them returning to what scholar William Julius Wilson refers to as jobless neighborhoods. Some simply have nowhere to go, nowhere to call home. Many have unresolved drug addictions and unaddressed mental illness issues that continue to plague them and worse—result in them returning to the $1.4 billion prison enterprise.

And while there are resources available to the many thousands reentering society, professional experience tells me those resources are limited, uncoordinated, and poorly deployed.

And as Corbin noted to me,

“What was striking to me in interviewing service providers and ex-offenders in Baltimore … was [the] profound lack of coordinated effort to match the scale of the number of returning prisoners. Clearly this is because the state is not committed to this population and has investments in the status quo, but it was also the self-interested parochialism among service providers, agencies and non-profits.”

Corbin hits the nail right on the head with his assessment—we’ve become accustomed to the treatment and disadvantaged outcomes of returning prisoners. We’re beholden to the status quo and can no longer afford to do so—we never could. Neither economically nor morally.

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