The country could see rising crime rates without programs to help inmates make a smooth transition from prison to their old neighborhood and old temptations, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said yesterday during a visit to Baltimore, where she called on Congress to spend $145 million on such programs nationwide.
Speaking with civic leaders at St. Katherine's Episcopal Church in Druid Heights, Reno praised Baltimore community groups that help ex-convicts adjust to life outside prison and said such programs are critical as the nation's prison population approaches a record 2 million inmates.
"Sooner or later, they're coming back to the community," Reno said.
In Druid Heights, where state officials say nearly 17 percent of the city's ex-convicts live, a neighborhood nonprofit group has put to work men saddled with prison records and drug addiction as part of a pilot program started last year in Maryland that is seeking additional federal money.
"Don't believe it when people say these men don't want to work - they do," said Jackie Cornish, executive director of the Druid Heights Community Development Corp.
One of those men is David Williams, who served 14 months in state prison for drug offenses. Williams said most men in prison want to make a better life on the outside, but they struggle to get a chance to prove themselves.
"When I was locked up, I talked to so many brothers who wanted to do the right thing," said Williams, one of three ex-convicts to tell his story yesterday to Reno.
The attorney general's funding push comes as Congress finishes work on the major spending legislation before recessing early next month. So far, the appropriations bills do not include all of the money Reno has requested for prisoner re-entry programs.
John Scofield, a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers have been cool to a $60 million Justice Department request, saying it duplicates existing prison programs. Committee members did agree to fund $30 million of a $75 million U.S. Labor Department request for re-entry programs. And lawmakers have increased funding for adult training activities and Job Corps - both of which can help former inmates, Scofield said.
"We don't dispute their merit," Scofield said. "But there's no reason to create new programs when we have existing programs that do the same thing."
Charles Simon, a deputy associate attorney general, said justice officials hope budget negotiations will result in more money for re-entry programs such as the one in Maryland.