Reentry programs reduce prison recidivism

Prisons
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Friday, May 20, 2016, at 1:18 pm

Because of the roughly 2.5 million men and women incarcerated in this country, states find themselves under increased pressure to develop early-release alternatives to ease prison overcrowding. States have chosen probation and parole as the primary means to ameliorate the overcrowding while maintaining a means to punish offenders for breaking the law. But reentry programs have proven to be the best way to keep criminals from returning to prison, and the best programs are those emphasizing character formation and work skills.

The closing of a highly successful reentry program in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has created a bit of a stir in Broward County. Broward Bridge, a 172-bed facility offering on-the-job-training through work release and substance-abuse counseling, is a public-private partnership that enrolls offenders who have six months to two years left on their prison sentences. Its programs have a graduation rate of almost 90 percent, and a recidivism rate of 10 percent, according to the Sun-Sentinel. If more of these programs close it could have devastating consequences for communities.

Alternative models created by entrepreneurs have also been hugely successful. For example, in Cleveland, Ohio, Brandon Chrostowski founded the Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute, a reentry program providing ex-offenders with dignity, culinary skills, and a job. The six-month program includes intense training in the restaurant industry, ranging from kitchen management to business management. These ex-offenders learn new skills during the day and then put them to work at night at an actual restaurant. Chrostowski’s team transforms men and women from prisoners to highly skilled and employable food industry managers in a short time. The program also provides housing if needed and receives no government funding.

Chrostowski’s approach revolves around the idea that everyone deserves a second chance. He knows this type of mercy firsthand after he was arrested and shown grace by a judge who could have sent him to prison for 10 years, but instead gave him probation. During his probation, a chef mentored Chrostowski, and the rest is history. In a March 2016 interview with CNN, Chrostowski said that 114 students had graduated from the institute so far, with more than 90 percent of them employed, and none returning to prison.

Reentry programs that emphasize job training in private-sector careers that are in demand are the most successful. These programs work well because they give second chances, teach specialized skills, demand moral and ethical standards, provide temporary housing and funding assistance, and establish long-term personal relationships, while affirming the dignity of participants as they soar to new heights.

Successful reentry programs treat ex-offenders according to what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God and expect them to live accordingly. When programs treat ex-offenders with inherent dignity, they flourish and are more likely to live a virtuous life, which makes the world a better place.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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