xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Edelman: Reducing recidivism rate starts with hope, second chances

Amid the wall-to-wall coverage of the president’s impeachment hearings, the looming coronavirus epidemic, the campaign speech mislabeled as the State of the Union address, and the astoundingly incompetent vote tally in Iowa, you could certainly be excused for missing the first weeks of the current Maryland General Assembly or Gov. Hogan’s State of the State message. But they were important in their own ways.

The governor called for consensus, contrasting his approach with the hyper-partisanship surrounding the State of the Union. Hogan opened a discussion on gun violence, an issue of importance to all Marylanders, one whose importance we can all agree on. Reducing violence on the streets, especially in Baltimore, is absolutely essential to the city and neighboring communities, Carroll County included. The governor’s position on gun violence focused on tougher treatment of gun offenders.

Advertisement

That approach has been tried and found wanting. Crime statistics show that about two in three prisoners will be charged with another crime within three years of being released. Almost four in five will be charged within five years. This means that reducing crime depends on something other than longer sentencing of offenders.

Crime, and especially violent crime, is the child of many parents, among them poverty and poor education. When the goal we all agree on is to reduce crime, longer prison terms is locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen. If criminal conduct is the end product of those factors, we would be well-served to work to reduce poverty and improve education.

Advertisement

As regards remedial education for the prison population, some innovative programs began under the Obama Administration. The University of Baltimore is one of just 67 colleges using federal funds in the form of Pell grants to offer inmates the chance to get a college degree. The Second Chance Program reaches only a small number of inmates at Jessup Correctional Institution. Its goal is to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for both educational and employment success.

It’s still too soon to know whether this program will achieve its goals or if it will survive the Trump Administration, which will reevaluate this program sometime this year. In any event, we should support initiatives to increase educational opportunities for people in Maryland’s prisons. Last year, programs administered by the Maryland Department of Labor’s Correctional Education Council resulted in 387 inmates receiving high school diplomas.

The goal of those programs is to make prisoners who have completed their periods of incarceration more employable. A job addresses ongoing poverty, another significant contributor to criminal behavior. Of course, you need to apply and be interviewed before you can be hired. Last year, the governor vetoed a bill that the Assembly sent to him, the “ban the box” bill. This bill would forbid private employers with 15 or more employees from asking prospective hires about criminal backgrounds until after the first in-person interview. His rationale was that the provision added to the cost of hiring. On Jan. 30, both houses of the Assembly voted to override, and so applicants will not be asked to “check the box” about prior convictions. Maryland thus becomes the 14th state to adapt this legislation.

Reducing recidivism is a worthwhile goal, one which we all should support. But solving the problem of dealing with repeat offenders is still not enough. We cannot un-kill a murder victim, un-rape a person. I’m not wise enough to know how to address the root causes of poverty and inadequate education. I have my guesses, but that’s all. For the present, we may have to settle for creating hopefulness, and that begins with a job, the tools a person needs to get and keep one, and the belief that things will improve. Ban the box is a small step in the right direction.

Mitch Edelman, vice chairperson of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, writes from Finksburg. His column appears every other Tuesday. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement